The Emigrants (1971)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBBB

Original title:  Utvandrarna

, 1971.  Screenplay by , Jan Troell, based on the novels by .  Cinematography by Jan Troell.  Produced by Bengt Forslund.  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by Jan Troell.  Academy Awards 1971Academy Awards 1972.  Golden Globe Awards 1972.

Max von Sydow plays a poor Swedish farmer who asks Liv Ullmann to be his wife and she accepts.  They take over his father’s farm, have children and live through good and bad crops, the joys and sorrows of parenting and taking part in their community until the truth of their situation can no longer be avoided: they have had too many bad seasons and cannot afford to go on.  They decide to take the chance on America, something that many of their neighbours have been doing, taking their children and possessions and joined by an unpopular religious leader who has been rejected by the local authorities for his radical ways and who has a number of followers in tow.  The journey they embark upon is a challenge from beginning to end: this is the mid-eighteenth century and traveling that far is never without its discomforts (like crowded steerage berths on the ship) and dangers (like the illnesses that break out on board), and then arriving on American shores is only the beginning of another journey across the country before arriving at their Minnesota destination.  Despite the fact that the description of this remarkable film sounds so harsh and depressing, Jan Troell’s masterful first of two adaptations of a series of novels by Vilhelm Moberg is never dour or weighed down by grimness.  There’s a sense of life’s possibilities embedded in every moment of risk, an appreciation for the joys briefly experienced in all the sorrow, and there’s a great energy to Troell’s direction that makes a very lengthy running time (more than three hours) go by very easily.  Casting big stars in the leads does not take away from the documentary-like feeling that the narrative provides, with both von Sydow and Ullmann doing incredible work as the couple fighting nature itself to make better lives for themselves.  Followed by The New Land.

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