The Emigrants (1971) IMDb

Categorization

Naturalist epic of 19th-century European emigration to America. 191 minutes plus intermission.

Subject

Powerless farmers on overpopulated Swedish soil in the 1840s and '50s work hard and get nothing for it, falling deeper into debt as every harvest from their plot is diminished by too much rain, or too little, while there are more and more mouths to feed. In church they hear only that one’s betters are appointed by God: everything is as it should be. One farmer’s teenage brother does a bit of reading and despairs at a harsh adult life as a farmhand, while his fellow worker is plagued by rumours of having fucked a cow. The same farmer’s wife is related to a Christian fundamentalist who is persecuted for performing religious services for various rejects of society, including a hot- headed former hooker. When things get bad enough, they all decide to go to America, which they hear is a land of milk and honey. The journey is long and hard, and the results not quite what they expected.

Commentary

Suitably unsentimental, except for the focus on Ulrika’s compassion. The inconsistency of the accents is also a significant lapse. Based on a popular novel, which is full of tall tales, thankfully diminished here.

fiction moving picture

Sequel:

The New Land (1972) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2015.

Commentary

Even better than the first film. Von Sydow is perfect as Karl Oskar, whereas the Norwegian Ullman continues to butcher the Smålandian dialect. In 2014 I saw the stage musical version of the original series of novels, where both Kristina and Ulrika were played with Finnish accents, similarly to my dismay.

Troell’s films are less focused on sex than Moberg’s novels, and less focused on religion and romantic love than the musical. They’re brilliantly naturalistic. If anything, they seem to emphasize racism, as they should in a story of emigration, but Troell is also very good with the characterization of the leads: flawed, ignorant, bigoted, brought together by geography rather than destiny. Troell extracts his drama from the representativeness of their lives, as opposed to a template larger than life.

fiction moving picture