A fortunate man, a daring and brilliant man, and an idealistic, obsessed and obstinate man. These are all apt descriptors for this extraordinary film by Danish director Bille August, based on Dutch writer Henrik Pontoppidan’s Nobel Prize-winning novel. Absolutely perfect performances, dazzling cinematography, and an alluring, absorbing storyline fully justify the length that actually feels half as long.
Peter (later Per) Sidenius (Esben Smed) has lived in rural Denmark under the yoke of his domineering and repressive father, an ultra-conservative Lutheran minister who espouses only the darkest prophecies and tenets of his religion. No wonder Peter is overjoyed to be accepted into a prestigious engineering school in bustling Copenhagen, for which he sets sail, despite the furious wrath of his father.
Through serendipitously “fortunate” circumstances, he becomes acquainted with a wealthy and powerful Jewish family, with two daughters. Swayed by his naïve charm and engineering genius, the family takes him under its wing.
World over, however, apples don’t fall far from the tree, the fruition of which heralds the beginning of Peter’s heartbreaking travails. The narrative unwinds many threads: class structure, religious doctrine, social issues, family tensions and romantic love, with expectations both realistic and otherwise. This gorgeous, exquisitely filmed epic chronicle is not to be missed.
Judy Bozarth is a writer and copy editor who’s been on AJFF’s Film Evaluation Committee and its copy editor for 11 years.