The Emigrants (1971)

PG   |    |  Drama, History


The Emigrants (1971) Poster

Småland, Sweden, mid-19th century. A farming family struggle with their rocky, unyielding land, and decide to embark on the arduous journey to new hope in America.


8/10
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20 August 2001 | Oblomov_81
8
| A realistic look at the pursuit of the American dream
When Jan Troell's "The Emigrants" was released in the U.S. in 1972, it opened to excellent reviews and received the honor of being one of the few foreign-language films to receive a Best Picture nomination. It didn't win anything, though, and seems to have been forgotten over the years. Perhaps this is because the public has since found other Swedish films to be more noteworthy, in particular the works of Bille August and the later works of Ingmar Bergman.

Sad to say, because "The Emigrants" is a film that closely examines two very different cultures in an effective and insightful way. A diverse group of Swedish peasants (among them a married couple, a priest, a prostitute, and a young upstart) endure back-breaking labor in their homeland to little profit. They decide to move to the states after being influenced by the exaggerated stories spread abroad (everyone has more than enough food, everyone is filthy rich, etc.). The audience sympathizes with them not just because they endure so much in Sweden, but also because they believe the stories they hear about frontier life in America. Yes, they will obviously have to strive and struggle to survive in their new home, but they are all the more admirable because of their adherence to the American dream.

"The Emigrants" is harsh and often unrelenting in the straightforward way it depicts the realities encountered by the Swedish settlers. The scenes where they travel across the ocean in a small, cramped, and diseased ship are appropriately claustrophobic and terrifying. Later, the family at the center of the story threatens to break up when Liv Ullmann's character, a fragile young mother, loses track of her daughter while hurrying to board a steamboat.

Although most of the characters were better developed in the sequel to this film, "The New Land," Troell's story is very moving in its sincere depiction of how outsiders came to this country to pursue their hopes and dreams.

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