It's terrific to discover a treasure such as this. "Hunger" not only refers to the need for nourishment, but the yearning and lust for the finer things in life. Our main character is a man putting on appearances for the sake of social class acceptance or even love. Per Oscarsson plays this part to perfection as a dreamer grasping at air.
Take out the part where he goes with Gunnel to her flat and it would be a flawless masterpiece. No woman, much less a lady, would have gone anywhere near him - apart from being obviously mentally ill, he would have been putrid. Even by the standards of the time. In the book he admits to having given up bathing months ago. The scene at the flat does come from the book but there she is clearly shown to be a prostitute.
This compares favorably Charlie Chaplin's 'The Immigrant'. His tramp is not played for laughs, but something much bigger. He's crazy, but his moral sense makes him rise above the others in this film. Compassion. Unlike Chaplin, he can't take money from someone and not feel guilty. It reminded me of 'Pennies from Heaven', where dreams of glory meet the hard reality of his life. Hope is that thing with feathers.
Knut Hamsun, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920, has the reputation of being a norwegian Dostoyevsky. In "Hunger", you will meet Raskolnikov and the brother of The Underground Man. Furthermore, Thomas Mann described him as a descendant of Fyodor Dostoyevky and Friedrich Nietzsche. So if you love Fyodor Dostoyevsky, I highly recommend reading the novel "Hunger", and then watch this wonderful movie.
I"m not sure why this film hasn't made any "top 10 films to see before you die" lists because it feels like one of those. The mood is a cross between Sartre's Nausea and Rowan Atkinson (Black Adder not Mr Bean!).