As the old Dissolve gang newly regrouped under The Next Picture Show podcast flag would tell you, “no film exists in a vacuum and all culture is more interesting in context”. The context under which Danish film Pelle the Conqueror managed to snatch the Palm d’Or and the Best Foreign Film Oscar is intriguingly mysterious to me. Is it that the wind of change was blowing over pre-1989 Europe and society felt like saying goodbye to the old ways and to acknowledge the sacrifices made?
Because no clear artistic accomplishment comes to mind, as -
Conventional drama-wise it is: Swedish old dad and young son arrive as immigrants in 19th century Denmark and get hired to tend the cattle at a nobleman’s countryside mansion. They’re managed by a highly xenophobic boss, and yes, they sleep in the stable. It ain’t easy.
Cliche turning points it has: big bad boss gets into almost lethal fight with a peasant, while nobleman screws all women in sight (although this has a great resolution - wife cuts dick off of nobleman, some weeks after which nobleman’s just fine with it, sipping tea).
Rows of scenes whose sole function is to move the action forward: a school teacher dies in front of Pelle and his classmates. Why do we see this? -> So children go to the funeral. Why? -> So Pelle defends the honour of his father and attacks the Priest’s son, while the Priest is looking. Why? -> So that social hierarchy kicks in and Pelle is under big trouble from the Priest. Why? -> So that he goes to ask for help from the nobleman. Why? -> So that he is offered help and even more than this, a better paid job at the farm. Why? So that Pelle is lured away from his dreams of seeing the world. So that he accepts the job. So that we’re sad. So that he changes his mind and doesn’t accept the job and so that makes us happy.
Scenes must be designed with more functions in mind other than that of propelling action forward.