The 10 Best Films Based On Nobel Prize Winners’ Novels

5. Hunger (1966)

Nobel Winner: Knut Hamsun
Director: Henning Carlsen


Like Dostoyevsky in his golden days, Knut Hamsun was a master at building characters. In fact, Pontus, the anti-hero in “Hunger”, could be described as another Raskolnikov (“Crime and Punishment”) or Ivanovich (“The Gambler”) from Dostoyevsky novels.

Pontus is a lonely writer rambling in the streets of Christiania – current Oslo – on extreme misery, shacking cold and starving. This state of misery causes him multiple moments of madness and violent mood swings, but we quickly notice that the hunger of this dreamer isn’t just physical, but also and mainly psychological. There’s an identity search and recognition inside his own delusions.

Henning Carlsen keeps it loyal to the book and the main character, played brilliantly by Per Oscarsson (winner in Cannes), stays proud and snobbish as he is in the novel. The film is very enthralling, depressive and touching, like what Pontus’ mind ends up being. Once Knut Hamsun was also very poor and had to work on many precarious jobs to survive before being a writer, this story could have some autobiographical facts about the author himself.

The Danish director Henning Carlsen died in 2014. His last film was “Memoria de mis putas tristes” based on another novel by a Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel García Márquez.


4. Fateless (2005)

Nobel Winner: Imre Kertész
Director: Lajos Koltai


“Fateless” was the first work by Imre Kertész and was the main reason for him to win the Nobel Prize. The Hungarian was a concentration camp survivor and this novel is semi-autobiographical, as it tells part of his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

The main character György Köves is very Kafkaesque when describing what is around him, in other words, barbarism, dehumanization and pure cruelty. The portrait of suffering is very reliable, for that reason “Fateless” is considered one of the most important works about Holocaust and a must read for those who are interested in the World War II subject.

Kertész wrote the screenplay himself, that is to say the film is quite faithful to the book. The motion picture was the most expensive Hungarian production ever, and it was well received worldwide, mostly because of the subject and the popularity of Imre Kertész. The film’s cinematography was also very praised.

“Fateless” triumphs thanks to the duality between some beautiful pictures and truculent facts inside them. It’s a poetic conception between the beautiful and ugly or life and death. This dichotomy can be observed through the alternation of colors (black and white, color or sepia) which works as a mood guide.


3. The Piano Teacher (2001)

Nobel Winner: Elfriede Jelinek
Director: Michael Haneke


It’s very common when writers keep a humble behavior after receiving the Nobel Prize. Wislawa Szymborska did it, Steinbeck quickly said he didn’t deserve it and Elfriede Jelinek said others should have won it instead of her, like Peter Handke.

The Austrian writer, very influenced by the modernism of Robert Musil, caused controversy on the Academy, first by missing the ceremony and second due to her writing style and themes. Some classified her works as “without artistic structure” and an “irreparable damage to literature as an art”.

Published in 1983, “The Piano Teacher” was another excellent example of Jelinek causing sensation. Erika Kohut is a sexually repressed piano teacher, who still sleeps in her mother’s bed at the age of 36. When one of her students falls in love for her, she doesn’t have anything better to offer him than a sadomasochist and awkward relationship, where they play the typical game of slave and master.

In 2001, the also Austrian Michael Haneke adapted the novel into a film. Dealing with heavy topics like voyeurism, self-mutilation and paraphilia, the film was also wrapped in polemic, but was a great triumph in Cannes Film Festival. It is the film that brought Haneke to the spotlight, “The Piano Teacher” is very psychological and demanding, offering an ironic satire about modern civilization and its canons and conventions.


2. Enemy (2013)

Nobel Winner: José Saramago
Director: Dennis Villeneuve


José Saramago is probably the strangest case of a Nobel Prize winner lacking of popularity in his country. He is the only Portuguese winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, but he has always been seen as “persona non grata” in his country.

Before winning the award, Saramago wasn’t quite popular in Portugal and his win in 1998 was a big surprise in the country. Years before, some of his works were censured in his own country, so he decided to go to Spain, where he lived until his death. José was always a corrosive voice on Portugal subjects, from politics to religion (he was atheist), and this was a big issue to his relation with his homeland.

“The Enemy” by Dennis Villeneuve is based on Saramago’s novel “The Double”, where a bored and tired man discovers an exact look-alike in a TV film. The book and the film are about the quest of that strange man. The plot deals with the apathy and boredom of Tertuliano (in the book)/Adam (in the film), suddenly brightened with this very awkward discovery. This was the fourth film based on a José Saramago novel, after “The Stone Raft”, “Blindness” and “Embargo”.

The director Dennis Villeneuve isn’t quite young, compared with other emerging talents like Damien Chazelle and Xavier Dolan, but the Canadian is a name to remember for the next years in Cinema. He took his time to maturate, but now the 47-year old director has made only amazing films. “The Enemy” is a clear proof of that.


1. The Tin Drum (1978)

Nobel Winner: Günter Grass
Director: Volker Schlöndorff

tin drum

Deceased in 2015, Günter Grass was one of the most controversial and essential European writers of the last century. Controversial, because he served Waffen-SS, the military force of Nazi Germany. Essential, because his works portray forgotten, but perennial, dark chapters in Europe.

“The Tin Drum” is the pinnacle of these chapters. Oskar is a 3-year-old boy who doesn’t want to grow up. On his birthday, the boy receives a tin drum, which becomes an inseparable partner to Oskar during a path where compasses of German history echo before and after World War II. The scathing criticism, the ruthless irony, the corrosive humor and freedom used to create this masterpiece make “The Tin Drum” one of the most important books in literature history.

The 1979 film adaption won the Palme d’Or along with Apocalypse Now and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, which, in a certain way, proves its success. The black comedy is very provocative and acute, but it can only be watched as an incomplete narrative, as Volker Schlöndorff, Franz Seitz and Jean-Claude Carrière used just the first two sections of the novel.

The child actor David Bennent is amazing in the main role, giving lots of personality and maturity to a child character. His eyes are very spooky. Without being a quite famous German film, over the years “The Tin Drum” earned a cult following among moviegoers. This is the best way to describe it: a cult film.

Author Bio: Pedro Bento is a portuguese samurai, who travels with his wakizashi sword into the infinity of his mind, always forgetting his way home. He doesn’t believe in inspirational moments, but he likes to hide in a secret place, where heavy metal is always blasting and no one can bother him, except his apathetic girlfriend Inês. Yes, he’s a loner.