Sunday, June 24, 2018

2018 Blind Spot Series: The New Land

Based on the novels The Settlers and The Last Letter Home from The Emigrants novel series by Vilhelm Morberg, Nybyggarna (The New Land) is the sequel to the 1971 film The Emigrants that follows a Swedish family’s arrival in America where they hope to start a new life just as the country they arrived in is embarking into their own turmoil. Directed, shot, and edited by Jan Troell and screenplay by Troell and Bengt Forslund, the film is the second part of a two-part film series that follows a family trying to start anew in their new home. Starring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Eddie Axberg, Pierre Lindstedt, Monica Zetterlund, Hans Alfredson, Allan Edwall, and Peter Lindgren. Nybyggarna is an evocative and enchanting film from Jan Troell.

Picking up where the previous film left off in 1850 near the Chisago Lake in Minnesota, the film is about the life of a Swedish family settling in their new home as they deal with not just creating their new home but also maintaining their roots though ever-changing times. It plays into this family that is trying to start this new life in Minnesota having left Sweden years ago as they endure not just establishing their home but also deal with people changing and other circumstances. The film’s screenplay by Jan Troell and Bengt Forslund does follow the three-act structure yet there is so much that is happening as it play into the evolution of the Nilsson family led by Karl Oskar Nilsson (Max von Sydow) and his wife Kristina (Liv Ullmann). They would start off living in a shack with their children and Karl Oskar’s brother Robert (Eddie Axberg) where they struggle with the winter and other things including American currency which confuses Karl Oskar at first. The first act is about the family settling and Robert eventually leaving with his friend Arvid (Pierre Lindstedt) to go to California to find gold.

The second act is about the formation of a parish with Danjel (Allan Edwall) as more settlers from Sweden are coming as the Nilsson would have a slew of Swedish neighbors. Though it would be welcoming at first, it would later cause trouble in the third act as it would relate to the natives in a scene where Karl Oskar meets his old friend Jonas Peter (Hans Alfredson) who warns him about the natives. The second act is about Robert’s return after a two-year journey to California and back where he doesn’t exactly reveal what happened to him as it would play into what he had encountered as well as revelations about a world that is darker than he imagined. The second act also include Karl Oskar’s desire to wanting to be an American yet Kristina believes it will rob him of his identity just as their family is growing despite its risk for Kristina’s health. The third act is about not just this sense of change but also the emergence of hostile natives lurking as well as Karl Oskar coping with mortality.

Troell’s direction is engaging for the way it presents the world of mid-19th Century Minnesota as some of it is shot in areas in Sweden including Stockholm, Smaland, and Skane as well as some locations in America in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Colorado for some scenes in the desert. It does play into this sense of emergence of a world that is starting for the Nilsson family in the way Troell uses hand-held cameras to get their point of view of their environment as well as how homes were built back then. The scenes in the home are shot with close-ups and medium shots to maintain that air of intimacy as well as wide shots for its exteriors and its surroundings that would play into the confusion that Karl Oskar and Kristina would encounter when they go to a nearby town where the latter’s friend Ulrika (Monica Zetterlund) lives in as she would marry the preacher (Tom C. Fouts) whom she had met years ago when he helped them find their way to town.

Also serving as the film’s editor and cinematographer, Troell would maintain something that is natural such as the sequence involving Robert’s journey to California which includes a scene at night where he and Arvid try to find a mule that had gotten loose. The sequence would have Troell use some stylish jump-cuts and montages to play into the chaos that Robert encountered as well as other dizzying cuts for a scene late in the film as it relates to the Dakota War of 1862 that involved settlers in Minnesota and nearby states. Troell would also play into the sense of change that emerges as he would provide little hints of what Karl Oskar and Kristina would face as well as its ending that play into not just what Karl Oskar and Kristina’s children have become but also a sense of loss relating to where they came from in this journey that their parents endured. Overall, Troell crafts a majestic yet rapturous film about Swedish settlers making a new home as well as try to maintain their roots in the New World.

Art director P.A. Lundgren does brilliant work with the look of the home that Karl Oskar would build for his family and the evolution of what it would become as well as the look of the small town they live nearby as well as the desert town that Robert would go to in his journey. Costume designer Ulla-Britt Soderlund does excellent work with the costumes from the lavish hat that Ulrika would wear after her marriage to simpler clothes of the settlers that would evolve during the course of time. The sound work of Eddie Axberg and Sten Norlen do superb work with the sound in capturing the sounds of nature in its different locations as well as play into moments of suspense as it relates to the natives. The film’s music by Bengt Ernryd is amazing for its rich score filled with lush strings and some organ music to play into the sense of drama and spiritualism that looms throughout the film while Georg Oddner creates an unsettling yet eerie theme to accompany Robert’s journey to California with lots of percussive instruments to play into the dark aspects of his journey.

The film’s wonderful cast include some notable small roles from Per Oscarsson as Pastor Torner as a traveling Swede who arrives to Minnesota to lead a congregation, Tom C. Fouts as the American pastor Jackson whom Ulrika would marry as he would help everyone get settled, Agneta Prytz as the old woman Fina Kajsa who would live with her son who had emigrated many years earlier, Peter Lindgren as Kajsa’s son Samuel Nojd who deals with alcoholism to cope with his attempts to tend to his land, Halvar Bjork as another settler in Anders Mansson who helps out the Nilsson family, Pierre Lindstedt as Robert’s friend Arvid who joins him on the journey to California, and Hans Alfredson as the settler Jonas Petter as a settler who marries a native only to deal with the chaos that involves the natives warning Nilsson about what is to come. Allan Edwall is fantastic as Danjel Andreasson as a former preacher who has started a new life nearby the Nilsson though a falling out with Ulrika would complicate his relationship with Kristina.

Monica Zetterlund is excellent as Ulrika as a former prostitute who marries an American preacher as she would help out Kristina in finding things as well as to save money while being her own woman. Eddie Axberg is brilliant as Robert Nilsson as Karl Oskar’s younger brother who tries to forge his own path in life by going to California in the search for gold only to return to Minnesota a broken young man who encountered some of the darkest aspects of humanity and environments that would nearly kill him. Liv Ullmann is incredible as Kristina as Karl Oskar’s wife who finds some happiness in her new home as she also deals with her longing for Sweden while being worried about losing her roots and who she is where she turns to God for answers. Finally, there’s Max von Sydow in a phenomenal performance as Karl Oskar Nilsson as a man who has finally found his new home where he is determined to create a new life but he’s tempted to conform to the ideas of America only to struggle with some of its realities and later dealing with loss and his own struggles with faith.

Nybyggarna is a tremendous film from Jan Troell. Featuring a great ensemble cast, beautiful visuals, a mesmerizing music score, and stories of a family settling into their new home as well as try to maintain their identity. It’s a film that explores what a family from another country tries to do to find their place in the world but also struggling to adapt to this new world that they’re unsure if it belongs to them. In the end, Nybyggarna is a spectacular film from Jan Troell.

Jan Troell Films: (Here is Your Life) – (Who Saw Him Die?) – The Emigrants - (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


Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

Does it have the same glacial pace as The Emigrants? There was a lot good about The Emigrants, but it was soooooo slooooooooow.

thevoid99 said...

@Ted S.-I actually didn't mind the slow pacing. In fact, I thought the pacing helped on both films as they're both similarly paced. I just took a different approach in watching as since there was an intermission for both films. I watched half the film a day and then watch the 2nd half the next day. It's because there's so many things that are doing and the World Cup.

Brittani Burnham said...

All your Blind Spots this year so far have stumped me. I haven't heard of this one either. lol

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I hadn't heard about this nor The Emigrants years ago but I heard this was an important film so I decided to check it out. Originally, I was going to do another Blind Spot but my DVR hard drive was nearly full so I had to delete that film (which will appear next month on Turner Classic Movies) and ended up doing these two films in response to what is happening right now. Both films together are more than six hours long which is a lot but I managed to get through it. It is worth checking out but don't let the length of the two films scare you.

Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

To be honest, when I was watching The Emigrants I thought it and The New Land would work better as a TV miniseries of the sort they had back in the 70s and 80s: four or five nights, two hours a night. Your comment about watching half one day and the other half the next fits with that idea.

thevoid99 said...

@Ted S.-I think that is the best approach for a film like that. Watch it like a miniseries. That I tend to do as I don't have much time to watch 2 3 plus hour films in 2 days. This year's World Cup has kind of made it impossible to have the time to watch films.