A Family saga of 19th century European settlers trying to make it to America, Jan Troell’s The Emigrants (1971) begins in rural Sweden. Life in poverty becomes so unbearable for a group of farmers they decide to go on the perilous trip at sea, by which way many won’t even reach the new world, in pursuing the American dream. Various obstacles, hostile environment are the theatre displaying their vulnerability, often leading to disillusion, with sudden death as the everlasting fear of God is lurking in every corner even in the new land.
Released in America, in a truncated version, missing almost an hour (only the 191 minutes version should be considered for viewing or reviewing), the film earned five Oscars nominations including a rare foray, for a film shot in another language then English, into the Best picture category, loosing to F. F. Coppola’s The Godfather.
Uninhibited, the director confronts the shadow of country fellow filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. The director hired three star veterans of the master’s filmography, actors Liv Ullmann and Max Von Sydow as well as composer Erik Nordgren. If Troell’s realistic ways are as remote as it can be from philosophical tales a la Bergman, he makes the best of this gamble. Parallels can also be traced with Terence Malick with similarities in the approach to natural light. The Emigrants is about total film making commitment. Troell co-wrote the screenplay with producer Bengt Forslund (from the book by Vilhelm Moberg), he was behind the camera (he is a gifted cinematographer) and he edited the picture. The pacing of the full length version slowly gets the viewer emotionally involved in timeless episodes emphasizing on details while creating ellipsis at proper times. Troell carefully establishes a dramatic tension setting up the grave tone of the second part and the follow up, The New Land (1972) . Beside some factual errors, but without any compromise, The Emigrants is historically significant displaying non-sensationalist depiction of life and death in the making of America in exposing the hard labor and sacrifice of immigrants and their contribution in building a nation.
Note: The Emigrants (1971, 191 min. version) and its companion piece The New Land (Nybyggarna) (see: https://cinetalk.net/2017/01/15/classics-the-new-land-nybyggarna-sweden-1972-204-mins/ ) in its 204-minute version, fall into a category of films to be only discovered in their most recent Blu-Ray transfer (or a pristine 35mm print) and nothing less. The differences between these versions and any other illustrate the very thin line between seeing it simply as a great film or the masterpiece it actually is.