Ditte, Child of Man

Bjarne Henning-Jensen (1908-1995), (Astrid Henning-Jensen, (1914-2002))

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

Indomitable optimist

All the time you fear that she will succumb, little Ditte, Child of Man. She believes in the good in everybody she meets. Therefore she is an easy target. Fortunately she is also an indomitable optimist and stronger than most people. Ditte is born out of wedlock and lives as a young girl with her old beloved grandmother. As an illegitimate child she is teased in school and more than anything in the world she wants a father. When steady - utterly reliable - herring dealer Lars Petter shows up and tells her that he is marrying Ditte’s mother, the little girl is very happy. 
Now Ditte must take care of three new sisters and brothers but gets nothing but complaints from her ungrateful, selfish mother. But the little girl finds consolation and support in both her sisters and brothers and Lars Petter. Also when she gets work from the tyrannical mistress of Hill Farm, whose spineless son Karl gets her pregnant. 

Everyday life heroine 

As is the case with Pelle the Conqueror (Pelle Erobreren) - directed by Bille August - Ditte, Child of Man is based on the first part of a novel by Martin Andersen Nexoe. But Bjarne Henning Jensen - who directed the film along with his wife Astrid - is more true to the socialist author’s intentions than August, who chose to make a film about a father and his son. 
Ditte, Child of Man is about courage in facing life and the desire to survive - manifested in a girl with a big heart. Ditte is one of the heroines of everyday life and is played with both sensitivity and drive by actress Tove Maës who emanates total honesty in the part. 

Unsophisticated and unvarnished 

The black and white film depicts life in the countryside about 100 years ago in an unvarnished and evocative manner. It was shown at film festivals and praised as a work in tune with the Italian neo-realism that revolutionised the cinematic art by telling everyday stories about ordinary people. 
Ditte, Child of Man, ran at cinemas in many parts of the world. But a scene where Ditte bathes nude in a lake, quite a daring thing to show in a film at that time, was cut by the Americans.

Tove Mäes in Ditte, Child of Man. Photo: Verner Jensen. ©Nordisk Film. 95 min. Manuscript: based on the book by Martin Andersen Nexø (1917-21). Producent: Nordisk Film

Did you know?

Martin Andersen Nexø wrote the novel, on which the film Ditte, Child of Man is based. A funny story is that the author added his childhood village to his last name because he did not want his books to be hidden in the upper left corner of the bookshop - under Andersen.

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Film, 2006

It hardly seems a coincidence that the film version of a novel written by Martin Andersen Nexø, a central author in Danish literature’s social breakthrough, also became the principal work in Danish film’s social awakening in the 1940s. The book is a categorical charge against a society that ignores the weakest; however, in the hands of the documentary maker Bjarne Henning-Jensen, the political aspect is toned down, instead focusing more on the human aspect, without diminishing the realistic or social engagement.
The film takes place in the country in the 1800s, and the plot is taken from the first part of the novel, where Ditte is born to a poor fishing family as the illegitimate child of the farm owner’s son. She grows up in poverty with her beloved grandmother. However, when her mother marries and has several children, Ditte goes with her. But this is just the start of her lifelong battle in the world that has nothing to give those that are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. 

Viewed with contemporary eyes, the film cannot avoid appearing a little naive, black and white in terms of morality and not least over-dramatic in its use of music. However, the film is nonetheless moving – its message comes through clearly and the idyllic scenery is unforgettable.
The married couple Henning-Jensen (Astrid is, on this occasion, the assistant director) demonstrate here for the first time their intuitive instruction of children and the film’s few scenes of uninterrupted play not only make reference to their own films “De Pokkers Unger” (Those Blasted Kids) (1947) and “Palle Alene i Verden” (Palle Alone in the World) (1949), but also to Alice O’Frederiks’ series on “Far til Fire” (Father of Four).


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