Frozen epics have a certain charm when there’s two feet of snow outside and the temperature is below zero. Sitting on the couch, wrapped in an afghan, you can watch Scandinavians battle the elements and their own demons while sipping a glass of red wine.
The chill penetrates, though. Max von Sydow is the Swedish widower who travels to Denmark with his young son, Pelle, in search of work and a better life. Luck is not on his side; the two end up at a farm run by a brutal overseer. Beauty, love, innocence: all are crushed in this harsh environment. Pelle is hardened by the misery and cruelty he observes and yet somehow manages to stay open to life. This is the miracle of the film: the boy’s wonder and gentle spirit survives.
Along the way, you get some stark landscapes. Snow-covered fields give way to bleak and rain-lashed vistas of early spring. Scenes of the stormy ocean, a schooner tossed on the waves, breaking up in the North Sea. A man dies. The sunlit summer days pass by all too quickly. Mostly it’s winter, but in the last scene we see Pelle turn his back on cold Denmark and make for America. A boy can dream.