Director: Henning Carlsen
Production: Henning Carlsen (Denmark), ABC Film, Sandrews (Norway), and Svensk Filmindustri (Sweden); black and white, 35mm, widescreen; running time: 111 minutes; length: 3,055 meters. Released 19 August 1966, Oslo, Copenhagen, and Stockholm.
Producer: Bertil Ohlsson; screenplay: Henning Carlsen and Peter Seeberg, from the book by Knut Hamsun; photography: Henning Kristiansen; editor: Henning Carlsen; sound: Erik Jensen; art directors: Erik Aaes and Walther Dannerford; music: Krzysztof Komeda; costume designer: Ada Skolmen.
Cast: Per Oscarsson (The Writer); Gunnel Lindblom (Ylajali); Sigrid Horne-Rasmussen (Landlady); Osvald Helmuth (Pawnbroker); Birgitte Federspiel (Ylajali's sister); Henki Kolstad (Editor); Sverre Hansen (Beggar); Egil Hjort Jensen (Man in the park); Per Theodor Haugen (Shop assistant); Lars Nordrum (The Count); Roy Björnstad (Painter).
Kauffmann, Stanley, Figures of Light, New York, 1971.
Wagner, Geoffrey, The Novel and the Cinema, Rutherford, New Jersey, 1975.
Sussex, Elizabeth, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1967–68.
"Biographical Note on Henning Carlsen," in International FilmGuide, London, 1968.
Duperley, Denis, in Films and Filming (London), May 1968.
Hart, Henry, in Films in Review (New York), October 1968.
Canham, Kingsley, in Films and Filming (London), February 1969.
Decaux, E., "Entretien avec Henning Carlsen," and "Le Cinéma danois," in Cinématographe (Paris), January 1980.
Devaux, F., in Cinéma (Paris), January 1980.
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All through his career Henning Carlsen has been concerned about the relationship between literature and film. Many of his films are based on important novels, but Carlsen has never been satisfied when his films were characterized as adaptations. He wanted to use literary sources as inspirations for works in another medium, works in their own right. Maybe the greatest challenge of his career was his film based on Knut Hamsun's famous, semi-autobiographical novel Hunger, published in 1890. The novel is about a young man, coming from the country to Kristiania, the capital of Norway. He wants to be a writer, but he is suffering from both physical and mental hunger in a hostile city. His sufferings and humiliations lead to hallucinations, and his permanent condition of starvation brings him to the brink of insanity. But his urge to express himself also results in moments of euphoria. The novel is primarily a study about the state of mind of an artistic genius. The transformation of this story, told by the main character in many inner monologues, into film presented intricate problems, which eventually were solved by Carlsen and Peter Seeberg, a highly original Danish author.
The two main characters of the book and film are the starving young man and the city. Carlsen, his cameraman Henning Kristiansen, and the set designer Erik Aaes have authentically recreated the cityscape of Kristiania of the 1890s. The establishment of the surroundings, where the young man faces his humiliations, shows Carlsen's experience as a documentary filmmaker. It is a very impressive presentation of the place and the time. Less satisfying is the manner in which the young man is integrated into the surroundings. Part of the problem concerns the character's view of the city as a prison. The sense of claustrophobia in the film is communicated to us by the use of many close-ups of medium shots, but only results in a confusing orientation of the city.
Sult, of course, is Per Oscarsson's film. His portrait of the budding artist, split between moments of lucidity and moments of darkest despair, is film acting of the highest order. Oscarsson has occupied the mind and the body of his character to such a degree that there is an absolute congruence between the actor and the role, in the physical manifestations and in the inner mental state. It is to Carlsen's credit that he has coached Oscarsson's unique talent and Carlsen also shows his ability as an actors' director in the way he has handled the other actors in the film. As a director he hides behind his actors, though still maintaining control. For example, one of the most magic moments in the film, the love scene between the young man and the girl Ylajali, is a complex mixture of the tragic and the comic, which could only be created by a true artist.