Over the past year I’ve continued to watch way too many new films (and my mammoth year-in-review should be posted here around Oscar time), but I’ve been making an alternative effort to re-watch classics from all-time lists, my own or others. Here are some brief reactions.
This seems a good moment to celebrate family sagas about the vitality and heartbreak of the immigrant experience in
. I’ve been
waiting decades for a decent video release of Jan Troell’s magnificent diptych
from the early 70s – The Emigrants and The New Land – and when the Criterion
Collection finally delivered, with a pair of beautifully-restored Blu-Ray disks, which Netflix does not deign to carry, I had no choice but to
purchase it. America
It’s odd for such an acclaimed classic to be lost to general memory, and to be treated so shabbily by its American distributor, who began by cutting forty minutes from the three-hour running time. The Emigrants was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 1972 Oscars, and the next year, after the release of an execrable and nonsensical version dubbed into English, it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. So why is this film, and its equally superlative second half, so difficult to see?
But so worth the effort to see. Except for one extended sequence in the second film, nothing in the appropriately slow-paced six-hours-plus is less than enthralling. The Emigrants follows the 1850 journey of a group of Swedish farmers from the land to the sea, across the sea, and across half of the American continent to
. The New Land shows them carving a homestead and a community out
of the wilderness over the next decade. Minnesota
Troell adapts the celebrated Swedish tetralogy by Vilhelm Moberg, and also directs, photographs, and edits the film, a truly commanding accomplishment. He must be the least-known of great filmmakers, though for me his Everlasting Moments (NFX) was the best film of 2009, so he has had a long and productive career. As Terrence Rafferty writes of his do-it-all approach, “The documentary-like freedom of Troell’s shooting style gives his historical epics an unusual sense of intimacy; they’re alert, unstudied, dense with small revelations.”
This is the film that made Liv Ullmann an international star. Max von Sydow had already crossed over to major
Hollywood epics, from all the films they’d made with Ingmar
Bergman. But they’ve never been better
together, than as Kristina and Karl-Oskar Nilsson, on their long, hard, but
exquisitely beautiful journey from stony times in to the harsh struggles of settling the American
heartland. They’re supported by a large
cast that rings true in every particular. Sweden
While I can no longer proselytize for my favorite films by showing them at the Clark, in this case I can make this rare gem available to locals who own a Blu-Ray player, by donating my disks to the Milne Public Library in Williamstown (along with the dazzling Criterion disks used to show the “Colors of Japan” film series at the Clark). If you can, take advantage of this rare opportunity to see one of the least-known great films of all time.
Hard to say that The Emigrants got robbed of Best Picture, when that award went to The Godfather, another magnificent family saga of American immigration, which is equally appropriate to re-watch and remember, at this vexed historical moment. I recently had occasion to confirm the high esteem in which the first two Godfather films are held, after which I was primed to find The Godfather Part III better than it’s reputed to be. Alas, the third installment does represent a major falling off, but not in a way that casts shade on Francis Ford Coppola’s monumental achievement in the first two parts.
[Click through for my brief comments on a number of classics worth seeing again, or must-see for a first time]