Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Another movie in my recent viewing schedule was The Emigrants. It's on a Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray along with the follow-up movie The New Land (which I haven't seen, and I DVRed The Emigrants so I don't have The New Land at hand).

The film according to the opening titles, opens in a rural parish in the southern Swedish province of Småland in 1844. Karl-Oskar (Max von Sydow) and his family are subsistence farmers there, always up against it with one disaster after the other. Indeed, in the first sequence we see Karl-Oskar's father getting his leg broken when a boulder rolls over on it. Meanwhile, the harvests are never good, and the lack of food and money is a constant source of friction between Karl-Oskar and his wife Kristina (Liv Ullmann), who it seems is constantly pregnant.

Meanwhile, the extended family has problems. Karl-Oskar's kid brother Robert has been hired out as a farmhand, but Robert is a dreamer and not a very good farmhand. His lack of work constantly gets him into trouble, ultimately getting him smacked on the ear hard enough to cause constant ringing in it. And then there's Kristina's uncle Danjel, a renegade preacher who has views on the Gospel that the official Swedish Lutheran church doesn't exactly agree with.

The disasters just keep on coming, and Robert tells them all what he's read about America, a land that's growing and where the land is free. Ultimately, one of Kristina and Karl-Oskar's daughters dies, and she finally agrees that perhaps going to America to start a new life might be worth a try. They can't fail any worse than they're failing in Småland, after all.

So they set out on the long transatlantic voyage, which is fraught with difficulties, and even when they land, it's still going to be a long way before they get to a cousin's place in what is now Minnesota (it was still a territory at the time, not becoming a state until 1858).

The Emigrants is a very well-made movie. Most of the actors give good performances, and the story is for the most part a good one. I also found the cinematography good, along with the set and costume design. There was, however, one problem that I did have, which is that the movie is extremely slow. The version I DVRed was the American version, dubbed into English and having 40 minutes cut out. Still, it runs 150 minutes, and since we know there's a sequel The New Land, the movie only gets to when they stake their claims in Minnesota. The hardships of trying to develop that new land are a completely different story.

Anyhow, the lead-up to the family finally deciding to emigrate has so many disasters that you almost wonder whether somebody was trying to parody the idea of how difficult 19th century farming life was. And it's not just the constant, unrelenting disasters; it's that they're all drawn out. We get the point.

Still, The Emigrants is certainly worth watching at least once.

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