Hamsun

A Nobel Prize-winning author and fierce Norwegian nationalist, Knut Hamsun was celebrated as "the soul of Norway" until he unexpectedly betrayed his country by endorsing the German occupation in 1940. Among its many virtues, Jan Troell's (The Emigrants) fascinating Hamsun benefits from a perfect sense of timing: Enough years have passed to gain a richer, more dispassionate perspective on his actions, and to capture the wearily resilient face of Max von Sydow at just the right moment in his career. Working from a biography by Thorkild Hansen, Troell claims that Hamsun's involvement with the Nazis had more to do with his neglect as a husband and father than his naive political thinking. Thirty years into their failed marriage, his wife (Ghita Norby) was understandably attracted to Hitler's powerful rhetoric about family unity, and she was much more active in her support. But Hamsun's name was seized upon by the Nazis to give them intellectual legitimacy; his hatred for British imperialism far outweighed any passion for a new German Empire. (When asked if he's read Mein Kampf, he confesses, "No, but I've read the reviews.") Hamsun sags at times during its epic length, and the author's relationship to his children remains vague, but those minor flaws do little to blunt the impact of Troell's multi-layered script and von Sydow's tormented, self-effacing performance. By turns harsh and sympathetic, Hamsun is a complicated portrait of a compassionate traitor and extraordinary dupe.

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