Pelle the Conqueror (Pelle Erobreren) (1987)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 28-Jul-2003

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1987
Running Time 144:17
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (93:05) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Bille August

Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Max Von Sydow
Pelle Hvengaard
Case Center Circle and Clip
RPI $17.50 Music Stefan Nilsson

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Danish Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Final scene plays out over credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Pelle The Conqueror is a difficult film to watch and, in some respects, a difficult film to review objectively. Perhaps I should outline the story first, then discuss the challenges afterwards.

     It is the end of the 19th century, and Pelle (Pelle Hvengaard) and his father, Lasse Karlsson (Max Von Sydow), flee the harshness of life in their homeland of Sweden, huddling in an overcrowded boat bound for the easy life they are convinced they'll find on the Danish island of Bornholm. They stand on the pier at their destination, hoping for an employer to select them for work that will begin their new life. But Lasse is too old, and Pelle is too young, and they are the last standing, lonely, cold and desperate, until a gruff farm foreman collects them and takes them to the farm of his master, Kongstrup (Axel Strøbye). Far from being the joyful beginning of a new life, they find themselves in squalid conditions, working with the skinniest cows you're likely to see on-screen, with minimum wages, poor food and little chance of escape from their fate. The story is an examination of their lives on the farm and those of their co-workers and fellow internees.

     This film is billed as an epic, and, in a gritty, restrained sort of way, it deserves that nomenclature. The photography is exquisite, with some scenes that look like a Rubens painting, with vast fields dotted with peasants bent to their work. The acting, too, is subtle to the point of being almost stylised.

     But watching this film was something I found to be a literally painful experience. Its themes have much to do with loss, disappointment, degradation, despair and disillusionment. One by one, the dreams, fantasies and beliefs that had sustained Lasse and Pelle on their journey unravel, and, as the father loses his heroic status in his son's eyes, Pelle embarks on the agonising path to premature adulthood. As he witnesses the brutality of the adult world, he has to harden himself to the reality of his life. He must use the little schooling he gains to make the most of his life, (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) and, ultimately, he realises he has to leave his father in order to survive at all.

     Pictorially, thematically and stylistically, this film is bleak, cold and stark. There are moments of visual shock value, but more disturbing still is the resignedness to their fate that the characters frequently show. For example, in one scene, two children dive into freezing cold water, and the men standing around register no surprise, shock or concern. They matter-of-factly assist in fishing them out eventually, but without any emotional involvement whatsoever.

     The scenery is impressive but cold, as is the subject matter, and the film is as long as the ice-fields are wide. This is my prime complaint with this film. Whilst I enjoy stories that take their time to develop their characters, at over 2 hours 24 minutes, this film was not only slow-moving, but did not always have a sense of cohesion. Characters were not as well developed as one would expect in a film of this length, and frequently the plot felt a little chopped and disconnected.

     Pelle The Conqueror won the Golden Palm Award at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival, and an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1989 (against Salaam Bombay, amongst others), as well as an Oscar nomination for Von Sydow as Best Actor. Certainly, it's a film with many merits, but, in my opinion, an equal number of flaws. It will probably polarise its target audience - some will adore it, others will loathe it, but few will forget it - and perhaps, after all, that's one measure of a significant film.

     I'll be interested in reading your opinions on this challenging film.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which appears to be its original format.

     This is a very soft print, with virtually no scene looking sharp or crisp. Admittedly, this film is stylised as a flat palette, but the grain levels were poor, there was the interference of low level noise throughout, and it had an overall muddy appearance.

     It appears to have been a stylistic choice to limit the colour palette quite severely to reinforce the drabness of life itself, and there were only rare moments where the colour range opened up, but when they did (for example with the workers reaping in the fields), the subtlety of the colours was quite beautiful in a fragile kind of way. Skin tones looked alternately ruddy or pallid, but again, this may have been a deliberate choice.

     Sadly, this is not a well presented disc as far as transfer quality is concerned. Whilst there was a reasonable amount of detail available, there was evidence of telecine wobble frequently through the film, and digital dropouts at 20:52. The splice marks, scratches, dust spots and reel change marks that were present throughout the entire presentation resulted in a somewhat frustrating viewing experience at times.

     There were no subtitles on this disc (more on this in the Audio section - *whinge alert.*)

     This disc is an RSDL disc, with the layer change placed at 93:05, which was handled reasonably well.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     I have a major whinge with this film. It is English dubbed with NO option to play the original soundtrack with subtitles. I just HATE not having this option - as I FAR prefer to listen to the original soundtrack with English subtitles.

     There are two audio tracks on this DVD - English Dolby Digital 2.0 and Danish Dolby Digital 2.0.

     With dubbed presentations like this, the issue of discussing audio sync is virtually pointless. Most of the time, the dialogue was clear and easy to understand, and they apparently went to some pains to try to make the dub "match" the lip movement. But that only makes me wonder more how altered the dub script was to the original. You just lose so much of the impact of a film not being able to hear the true voices of the actors saying what they were intended to say.

     The musical score was eerie, sparse and emotive, but all the sound felt compressed into the centre front speaker with the result that the music sounded disappointingly tinny and non-dimensional. There were also many occasions where the sound was quite distorted and infected with pops and clanks which were both irritating and distracting.

     There was no evidence of either surround or subwoofer activity throughout the presentation, making the aural experience an extremely flat one.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     The menu was 1.33:1 and static, with theme music from the production.

Theatrical Trailer

     This is 16x9 and runs for 2 minutes, 10 seconds. It's one of those trailers that make you wonder if the promoters saw the same film that you did!

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

     I'm sorry to say it, but my viewing preferences for original audio + subtitles would be enough to sway me to go for the R1 version.


     This is a film that has the seeds of greatness within it, but there are other aspects that I found wanting. Long, slow and not always the easiest to follow, it still is remarkably effective in transporting to its audience a sense of place and time and authenticity. It has a haunting quality that lingers after the credits have closed, and the photography and acting are superlative throughout.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Magnificently depressing - wolfgirv