The second part to “The Emigrants” may not be as exciting or perilous for its lead characters, but its chronicle of 19th century America as an unforgiving world is difficult to surpass.
Dir. Jan Troell
1972 | Sweden | Drama | 202 mins | 1.66: 1 | Swedish
Not rated (likely to be NC16 for some mature themes and disturbing images)
Cast: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Eddie Axberg
Plot: A Swedish immigrant family struggles to establish a new life for themselves in the forest of Minnesota in the mid-19th Century.
Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar – Best Foreign Language Film.
Source: Svensk Filmindustri
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray)
The follow-up to The Emigrants (1971), The New Land came at a time before sequels became fashionable in Hollywood with the likes of The Godfather Part II (1974), Rocky II (1979) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980) charting the way. It continues the story of Karl Oskar and Kristina, played by two of Swedish cinema’s most iconic leading talents in Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann.
They have since settled in America after leaving their home in Sweden nearly a year ago. Though ‘settled’ isn’t quite the most apt word to describe their circumstance as they struggle against language barriers, food sustenance, and what appears to be one of the key focal points of the film, the threat of the Indians.
The New Land is an even longer film than The Emigrants, running at nearly 3 ½ hours, though it is not necessarily as exciting or uncertain—chief reason being there is no more life-changing decision to make, nor is there another huge dangerous ocean to cross.
However, that is not to say that it is an uninteresting affair because Jan Troell, with his keenest of eyes for nature and human interaction, delivers another bewitching masterclass in storytelling through naturalistic cinematography.
“Aren’t we Swedes anymore?”
“We don’t belong there anymore, you know that.”
Particularly, an extended segment centering on Robert (Eddie Axberg), Karl Oscar’s younger brother, who leaves the safety and comfort of home in search of fortune, relies almost entirely on visuals and music (mostly percussive that might have been an antecedent to Ryuichi Sakamoto’s track, ‘Final Fight’ for The Revenant) for impact.
In a bold use of the flashback technique, Troell not just shows Robert’s journey to seek for Californian gold, but to give us an acute sense of experiencing an unforgiving world through inhumanity and the harshest of environmental conditions.
And perhaps this is Troell’s ultimate intent in making these two films—that he sees the world as unforgiving, and by capturing the grit and struggles of emigrants from his homeland as they find their way in 19th century America, he hopes to provide a counter-force, that if one were to lead a full and fulfilling life without any regrets despite the physical and emotional hardship, not to mention in the face of a slow generational erosion of one’s own cultural and linguistic traditions, then it could rightfully be considered one of the humanity’s greatest sacrifices.