Starving Artist


A celebrated but by now largely forgotten Swedish-Norwegian-Danish adaptation of the Knut Hamsun classic, Henning Carlsen’s icy 1966 film chronicles that entropic spiraling out of a literally starving would-be writer (Per Oscarsson), semi-deranged by hunger and humiliation, dying for a meal but too proud and pretentious to accept it via charity or dishonesty. Hamsun’s hero still has a totemic tint to him; in 1890, he embodied a rebellious fin de siécle vision of anti-industrial thinking and Romantic sacrifice. Carlsen’s movie scans more like a character study of creative madness imploding under the isolating pressure of poverty. It is in any case a showcase for the emaciated Oscarsson, whose numerous trophies included Best Actor nods from Cannes and from the National Society of Film Critics, and whose fidgety, theatrical physicality is difficult to forget. Ravishingly shot in high contrast b-&-w by Danish master Henning Kristiansen, the movie was such a favorite of a young grad student named Paul Auster that he’s back, three decades later, talking about it in a DVD supplement with Hamsun’s lovely granddaughter.