I recently saw the movie “Hamsun” directed by Jan Troell, the Swedish writer, director, cinematographer, and editor of “This is Your Life” which was his first feature film. “Hamsun”, took its time telling the difficult and complex story of a difficult and complex Norwegian Nobel- laureate author accused of collaborating with the Nazis during WWII. It was such a beautifully constructed and immersive film that I wanted to see Troell’s earlier work.
For a debut effort this is impressive as hell. The cinematography is stunning and it takes real confidence to pull off some of those long shots. The cast amounts to a Who’s Who of Scandinavian cinema of the 60’s and 70’s with some Bergman regulars showing up as well. Ulla Sjöblom is particularly delightful as “Queen” Olivia as is Allan Edwall, the quiet one at the lumber mill. A number of performances stand out. Unfortunately, the main character here, young Olof played by Eddie Axberg, isn't one of them.
This is his life but Olof is passive to the point of being a nearly invisible observer to it. His range of emotions is incredibly limited. He spends the entire film drifting from job to job, quitting when he’s had enough, and stopping back at home to let Mum mend his clothes and feed him. Even his supposedly impassioned talks to the socialists he falls in with fall flat. There’s never a sense of anything changing for Olof. He doesn't grow up. He doesn't develop any particular way of thinking beyond parroting socialist dogma. After a very long nearly three hours the camera pulls up into the sky to watch Olof trudging off to whatever next job awaits him.
The movie works exceptionally well in engaging the viewer in a completely different world where most men’s options to support themselves and their families meant almost certain injury if not death. The drudgery, the pain, the low pay, the disdain of the bosses, the cold, the heat, the misery of it is not minimized. But it was impossible to have any emotional investment in Olof. I didn't care about this kid. Troell was 27 when he made this movie and, based on “Hamsun”, he solved the Olof conundrum.