Children's culture

Palle Alone In the World

Astrid Henning-Jensen (1914-2002)

By Christian Monggaard, film critic and reviewer at Information, 2006

Tram driver on route 8 

Who hasn’t once in a while dreamed of being able to do everything that he wanted to do and get away with it without any bother or hullabaloo? That is the dream that the little boy Palle has and one morning it is fulfilled. When he wakes up, he finds himself completely alone in the world. 
He washes his nose scantily, dips his toothbrush in the water to give the impression that he has brushed his teeth and then he sets off on an adventure in a deserted Copenhagen. He visits a sweet shop. He drives a tram, on route 8. He goes into a bank and withdraws a bag of money, not stupid notes but jingling, hard cash. But he later on tips the money into the sewers, because he knows no one to whom to pay it.

A touch of science fiction 

In Palle Alone in the World we witness well-known everyday life from a new angle, because the world has been emptied of people. This gives the film at one and the same time a dreamlike quality and an authentic sense of reality. A dash of science fiction permeates this poetic little film, which is so perfectly directed by Astrid Henning-Jensen. When it first came out, the film attracted considerable international attention. The film is based on Jens Sigsgaard’s classic children’s book of the same name. 

Moral of the film 

Palle Alone in the World is a funny, charming film. But it does not in any way pretend that a solitary existence in the world can bring happiness in the long term. After all, it is best to have someone to share life with, is the message. Astrid Henning-Jensen made films together with her husband Bjarne and Palle Alone in the World was her première as a film director. Along with the couple’s Those Damned Kids (De Pokkers Unger) (1947), the film is regarded as one of the very first Danish children’s films. A few years earlier Bjarne Henning- Jensen was responsible for making the splendid film Ditte, Child of Man (Ditte Menneskebarn), which is listed in the Film Canon. One of the strengths of Palle Alone in the World is the film’s sympathetic depiction of a child’s fantasy world. Here Astrid Henning-Jensen places herself at eye level with her young main character and shows through him with great conviction the child’s whimsicality and spontaneous approach to the world.

Lars Henning-Jensen in Palle Alone in the World. Photo: Annelise Reenberg. © Nordisk Film. 25 min. Manuscript: Astrid Henning-Jensen and Bjarne Henning-Jensen after children's book by Jens Sigsgaard (1942). Producer: Dansk Kulturfilm.
Lars and Astrid Henning-Jensen often used their son, Lars Jensen as an actor in their film. Here they are seen during the recordings for De pokker unger from 1947.
Children's Culture

Did you know?

Source: Dansk Kvindebiografisk Leksikon

In 1984, 70-year-old Astrid Henning-Jensen played in Lars von Trier's film The Element of Crime. As quite young, Astrid Henning-Jensen worked as an actor at various theaters in Frederiksberg. Although she quickly found her proper shelf as an instructor, she returned to the acting profession a couple of times during her career.

The Committee's justification

By the Committee for Film, 2006

A wonderful idea has been turned into a wonderful film. Who hasn’t dreamed of a world in which you can do anything, without any parents to stop you? Or did we dream about it because we know Jens Sigsgaard and Arne Ungermann’s 1942 children’s book so well? In the book, Palle wakes up one day and finds himself all alone in the world. He makes the most of it, eating candy, driving a fire truck and flying to the moon, but in the long run he realises that it is best to live in a world where there are other people. It’s a simple and ingenious idea that fits perfectly into the universe of film-making couple Astrid and Bjarne Henning-Jensen.

Their son Lars played the lead role, while the Henning-Jensens wrote the manuscript together. These pioneers of Danish children’s films had previously demonstrated their skill in portraying children’s universes with imagination and everyday realism (including Lars in minor roles) in films such as Ditte, Child of Man and Those Damned Kids. But this is a higher and more poetic thing altogether. This time, Astrid Henning-Jensen directed alone, and the film stands out as the most accomplished in her long career.
Despite the fact that the film won the international critics’ award as well as a prize at its world premiere in Cannes, it was five years before the film premiered in Denmark. The fact that it struggled in Danish cinemas does not change its indisputable status as a classic.

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