Monday, April 18, 2016


At long last, Swedish director JAN TROELL’s magnificent chronicle of Swedish emigration to America is available from Criterion.  THE EMIGRANTS (1971) and the NEW LAND (1972) follow the fortunes of Karl and Kristina Nilsson (Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann) as they journey to America in the mid-nineteenth century and attempt to adjust to their new world.  Here is a slow-breathing, deliberately paced story of hardship and survival which tracks the changing textures and moods of land and water, moving from the stony monochrome of the bleak Swedish farmland, to the tossing grey-blue of the pitiless ocean, to the bursting colors of the verdant Minnesota river country.  Watch for other films by this shamefully ignored director:   In ZANDY’S BRIDE (l974) the spectacular vistas of California's Big Sur form the backdrop for the developing relationship between a pioneer rancher, Zandy (Gene Hackman) and his mail-order bride, Hannah (Liv Ullmann). HURRICANE (l979), shot in Bora Bora, relates the inner turmoil of star-crossed lovers (Mia Farrow and Dayton Ka'ne) against the spectacular elemental fury of a South Seas storm.  And THE FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE pits the fool-hardy ambitions of three Swedish explorers bent on reaching the North Pole by balloon, against the implacable hostilities of the frozen wastes.

More recently is Troell’s quietly subtle EVERLASTING MOMENTS (2008). Over a span of approximately a decade, as the family grows from three to seven children, and as a young wife Maria (Maria Hellskanen) struggles to keep her home and family together in the face of the Great War, hard times, a workers’ strike, unemployment, and a chronically philandering and abusive husband (Mikael Persbrandt), she keeps taking pictures.  Tentative at first, under the tutelage of the kindly village photographer, Sebastian Pedersen (Jesper Christensen), Maria soon enthusiastically masters the camera.  “Not everyone is endowed with the gift of seeing,” he tells her, an unspoken love in his eyes.  From her own darkroom she produces fragile images of the family cat, the children, her neighbors, village parades, her friend Pederson, and, finally, herself.  “The pictures take me over,” she laments at one point to Pederson, guilty about carrying on her picture-making against the wishes of her husband; “and I’m another person.”  Pederson’s response might well be Troell’s own artistic credo:  “You see a world there to be explored—to preserve, to describe.  Those who have seen it cannot merely close their eyes.  You can’t turn back.”  Maria Larsson’s Everlasting Moment is a family album, a humane and compassionate series of glimpses into lives we care about and are grateful to know.  And all of it is captured not just through the camera eyes of Maria, but through the affectionate viewfinder of Jan Troell himself.

Autographed drawing by John C. Tibbetts

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