Jan Troell’s naturalistic if poetic debut feature may have been well-regarded in Swedish cinema, but it is difficult to be absorbed by a work that is too meandering and elliptical for its own good.
Dir. Jan Troell
1966 | Sweden | Drama | 168 mins | 1.66: 1 | Swedish
Not rated (likely to be PG13 for some mature themes)
Cast: Eddie Axberg, Gudrun Brost, Holger Löwenadler, Allan Edwall, Max von Sydow, Ulf Palme, Jan-Erik Lindqvist
Plot: A working class teenager comes of age in 1910s rural Sweden, moving from job to job and meeting a variety of individuals who gradually shape his future.
Awards: Won C.I.C.A.E., C.I.D.A.L.C., Interfilm Award and Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin)
Source: Svensk Filmindustri
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray – first published 18 Mar 2018)
Sometimes a work of great art hits you, but it doesn’t quite resonate with you. So do you blame yourself or the film? Here Is Your Life is one of those occasions. It was praised in its time, receiving several awards at the Berlin International Film Festival—quite a feat for a director making his first feature.
And thanks to the Criterion Collection, its accessibility on home video to cinephiles around the world today has increased exponentially, at least when compared to, presumably, rare retrospective runs at arthouse cinemas.
Well-regarded as a key work of Swedish cinema, and certainly representing a milestone in Jan Troell’s career, Here Is Your Life is a long movie, running almost three hours, foreshadowing such lengthier—and more recognisable—forays as The Emigrants (1971) and The New Land (1972).
Its length is also uncharacteristic for a feature debut, not to mention Troell not only served as the film’s writer-director, but also its cinematographer and editor—an approach to filmmaking that is incredibly rare, but one he would continue with many of his subsequent films.
Here Is Your Life charts the life of a teenage boy, Olof (Eddie Axberg, whom if you dig deeper, has had a prolific career not just as an actor, but in sound editing and recording) as he leaves his family in search of work, and perhaps to find a life to lead.
Set in the 1910s in rural Sweden, the film follows him through the years as he moves from one job to another, meeting people whom he forges a kinship with. But most importantly, we witness a coming-of-age story. Although that term gets thrown about too frequently, Troell’s film embodies that quality like hand to glove.
Shot in a naturalistic style, Here Is Your Life blends the organic with the poetic, and this is where I feel the film works most seamlessly. The assortment of supporting characters weave in and out of the narrative, almost as if they are real-life personalities. You might see one or two popping up again, or their existence might be momentary.
The only constant is, of course, Olof, who is a double-edged sword in such an overdrawn film. Axberg is not a particularly strong actor, and the picture’s elliptical approach allows segments where the film meanders, becoming less interesting. It’s a strange movie to experience—it slowly reels you in and lets you drift away, like a half-remembered dream.