Saturday, June 23, 2018

2018 Blind Spot Series: The Emigrants

Based on the novel by Vilhelm Morberg, Utvandrarna (The Emigrants) is the story of a poor Swedish farming family who travel from a small village in Sweden to America in the hopes of finding a new life in a new world. Directed, shot, and edited by Jan Troell and screenplay by Troell and Bengt Forslund, the film is the first of a two-part film series that explore the life of a family who deal with the hardships of their homeland and the need to find something new. Starring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Eddie Axberg, Allan Edwall, Pierre Lindstedt, Hans Alfredson, Sven-Olof Bern, Aina Alfredsson, Ulla Smidje, Eva-Lena Zetterlund, and Monica Zetterlund. Utvandrarna is a rapturous and evocative film from Jan Troell.

Set in 1844 Sweden, the film revolves around a family of farmers who live in a small village as they decide to move to America in the state of Minnesota in the hopes of a new start. During the course of their long and arduous journey, they deal with so much that would challenge any kind of family in the course of a long period of time as well as this seaside journey from Sweden to America. The film’s screenplay by Jan Troell and Bengt Forslund does have this unique structure that play into the journey that Karl Oskar Nilsson (Max von Sydow) and his wife Kristina (Liv Ullmann) would take starting off in the Swedish province of Smaland in a small village where they try to tend the farm and its land that Nilsson got from his father which is unfortunately filled with large stones. Much of the first act is set in Sweden where the Nilsson family that include Karl Oskar’s younger brother Robert (Eddie Axberg) deal with not just the land of their family but also this sense of oppression among their authority figures including those who lead this strict idea of faith.

This idea of Lutheran faith and its rule would force Kristina’s uncle Danjel Andreasson (Allan Edwall) to leave town as he would join Nilsson and his family to go to America with a young farmhand in Arvid (Pierre Lindstedt) whom Robert met when they worked for a cruel farmer. The second act is set on the ship from Sweden to America as there is so much the passengers endure ranging from seasickness, bad food, horrible weather, and death. There is also question about whether the decision to leave Sweden was the right one as the third act is set in America where there is a sense of confusion over what to expect as well as the fact that they have to take another journey to the state of Minnesota where an old woman’s son is living at.

Troell’s direction is mesmerizing in the way he captures mid-19th Century life in Smaland as well as the way America looked in that time. While much of the film was shot in Sweden with the scenes in America shot at Lake Krageholm in Scania, Troell uses the location to showcase not just the sense of wonderment that is America but also the struggle that Nilsson and his family would endure early on. The first shot of Nilsson’s father Nils (Sven-Olof Bern) trying to pull a big stone out of the ground on a rainy day is an example of the kind of troubles Karl Oskar would endure as there’s something mythical into this ongoing struggle where all of these stones are in the family’s fields. Troell’s usage of the wide shots play into the scope of the landscape as well as the sense of struggle that Nilsson has to cope with in relation to his land as well as providing for his family. Even as Robert would be forced to work for a cruel farmer as Troell showcases not just the day-to-day grind but also the lack of appreciation Robert and Arvid would get as Troell would shoot them in close-ups as well as medium shots to show their cramped living quarters.

Also serving as the film’s cinematographer and editor, Troell aims for a naturalistic look into the film in not just the landscapes but also the scenes on the ship. With much of the direction emphasizes on hand-held cameras to get that air of realism, Troell would shoot the scenes on the ship as if he was a passenger to get an idea of the danger of that journey. His approach as an editor isn’t just using dissolves and jump-cuts but also some fade-outs to help transition parts of the story that is grand not just in its 190-minute length but also to play into the struggle these characters endure. Even in the third act where they arrive in America as the confusion is shown in the editing where it is like a fish out of water but also in their attempts to communicate with Americans for direction as they still have trouble trying to speak English. The film’s ending has Troell play into the possibilities as well as the end of this journey that Nilsson takes over his desire for a new start. Overall, Troell crafts an intoxicating and riveting film about a Swedish family going to America to start over.

Art director P.A. Lundgren does brilliant work with the look of the homes the Nilsson family lived as well as the interiors of the ship they would board on to America and some of the locations in America. Costume designer Ulla-Britt Soderlund does fantastic work with the costumes as it play into the period of the times where there isn’t a lot of color into the clothes that the characters wear that include the wooden clogs they would wear in Sweden. Sound mixers Eddie Axberg and Sten Norlen do superb work with the sound in capturing the sounds of the different locations in the film including the scenes on the ship as well as the natural sounds of nature. The film’s music by Erik Nordgren is wonderful for its orchestral-based score that appear in some parts of the film as it play into the drama with its soft strings as well as some intense musical moments that help add to the drama.

The film’s terrific cast feature some notable small roles from Tom C. Fouts as an American pastor who helps out Nilsson and his entourage find their destination, Ake Fridell as the cruel farmer Aron who severely hits Robert’s left ear, Gustaf Faringborg as the local vicar Brusander who feels threatened by Andreasson’s teachings, Aina Andersson as Nilsson’s young daughter Marta, Bruno Sorwing as the local sheriff whom Nilsson has to deal with in relation to Robert’s issues with Aron, Eva-Lena Zetterlund as Ulrika’s daughter Elin who befriends Robert on the way to America, Ulla Smidje as Andreasson’s wife Inga-Lena who copes with the journey on ship, Hans Alfredson as a fellow traveling Swede in Jonas Petter, and Sven-Olof Bern as Nilsson’s father Nils who copes with the injury that would cripple him as well as realize the lack of future for his sons and their families in Sweden. Monica Zetterlund is fantastic as Ulrika as a former prostitute with an awful reputation who joins the journey as she is someone that Kristina isn’t fond of until she proves her worth as well as being someone that is helpful. Pierre Lindstedt is superb as Arvid as a farmhand that Robert meets as he’s a simpleton who is aware of the cruelty he’s dealing with as he’s eager to want something more as he joins Robert on the journey to America.

Allan Edwall is excellent as Daniel Andreasson as a preacher whose ideas of faith gets him in trouble with the local vicar as he decides to go America with his family where he deals with his own tests of faith through the circumstances he endures. Eddie Axberg is brilliant as Robert Nilsson as a Karl Oskar’s younger brother who likes to read and is more fascinated by science and social ideals rather than farming as he is eager to go to America in the hope of doing something that matters. Liv Ullmann is incredible as Kristina as a woman who endures a lot in her journey hoping for something good as she is also a God-fearing woman that believes God will bring something as she later copes with her own challenges towards faith. Finally, there’s Max von Sydow in a remarkable performance as Karl Oskar Nilsson as a man who is given his father’s farm to tend only to deal with the same struggles of his father prompting him to go to America with his family as a way to start all over as he would also cope with the wonderment and confusion of his encounter with America.

Utvandrarna is a phenomenal film from Jan Troell that features great performances from Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, and a gripping yet somber story about a family’s journey from Sweden to America in the mid-19th Century. It’s a film that captures a moment in time of a family dealing with uncertainty in their homeland as well as wanting to see if they can find something new in what was then known as the New World. In the end, Utvandrarna is a tremendous film from Jan Troell.

Jan Troell Films: (Here is Your Life) – (Who Saw Him Die?) – The New Land – (Zandy’s Bride) – (Bang!) – (Hurricane (1979 film)) – (Flight of the Eagle) – (Land of Dreams) – (Il Capitano: A Swedish Requiem) – (Hamsun) – (A Frozen Dream) – (As White as in Snow) – (Everlasting Moments) – (The Last Sentence)

© thevoid99 2018

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