The Emigrants – Review


From the many great films that I was lucky enough to catch for my first time through all of 2016 so far, Jan Troell’s The Emigrants is quite possibly the best of the bunch. The scope of emotion which Jan Troell places within an epic detailing the difficulties of immigration to America is something so incredible and the thought of such a beautiful and harrowing film like this being so underseen is only saddening to myself, for the experience which it presented was something that I know for a fact I will not be forgetting in a long time. Just the willingness to capture such emotions and sustaining every bit of beauty within such a staggering running time presents only a fraction to the wonders created by The Emigrants, for it may very well be one of, if not, the best film about mass immigration ever made.

Liv Ullmann, in arguably her best performance not from a Bergman film.

As a means of setting up a good starting image for the emotions that are to come later on as The Emigrants continues, we are given an image of world issues that would make such an epic feel leave a more universal impact. It creates an image of the devastating impact that poverty would have among the land and Troell’s beautiful attention to detail together with his realism strikes many chords that would soon go on to strike back to the films of the Italian neorealist movement. Just the matter to how Jan Troell is depicting the hardships of such living conditions makes for such a powerful experience, for his own willingness to detail the impact it would have upon the characters whose story he is telling amounts to what becomes a harrowing experience.

While the film’s primary topic at hand is the terrible living conditions which would call for the Swedish citizens to immigrate, where Jan Troell also forms a layered emotional core is in his picture of marriage. In The Emigrants, we have the marriage between Karl and Kristina Nilsson (who are played by Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, respectively) as the prime focus for Troell’s calling for humanity. Troell’s presentation of the dynamics also gives an extremely well-put sense of characterization from start to finish and his realization to what they are. It is clear that Karl and Kristina had been married for a long time, but like every other marriage, they have their share of ups and downs. In spite of this, they stay together because they realize how at heart, they know already that they are still committed.

It’s also worth noting how through The Emigrants, one of my first instincts was to see that it contained many elements that would go on to remind one like myself of the very best that can be offered by an Ingmar Bergman film. Thematically, there is a connection present through how they portray faith and how it comes into question during such hardships as they take place within the course of life. Such philosophies would go on to add more of an emotional depth to what already was such a detailed picture of poverty and the ups and downs of marriage, especially as it heightens a clearer image of their perspective of the world around them. The hints become clear already that this is a personal story for Jan Troell to tell on the screen, and given how much he is willing to fill up the three hour running time with the attention to detail at hand, it certainly warrants the incredible length.

Going into the more technical aspects of the film, there’s always such beauty to be found in the cinematography, which has been done by Jan Troell himself. Together with his incredible sensitivity as a director especially in regards to the dynamics that would form what in his eyes would be a realistic marriage together with the influential factors in regards to why the Swedish citizens would want to leave the land, there’s always something presented by The Emigrants that would be keeping the viewer’s attention. This is an especially risky method to perform on Jan Troell’s end knowing the large scale that The Emigrants presents on the screen, but it becomes clear that there is a sense of freedom with Troell’s direction and it creates a sense of attachment towards how such a story has touched Troell.

What I could easily have thought had I come into The Emigrants blind is that it could easily have been a three-hour long film directed by Ingmar Bergman, knowing what Bergman is willing to tackle within such a short length. However, Jan Troell manages to make his own work much more distinctive. For his own independence behind the camera not only as a director but also as editor and cinematographer goes to show how dedicated he is with capturing the impact that poverty would have not only on the land but also upon Troell himself, ultimately what we are left with is a harrowing experience unlike any other. Knowing how Troell works around the realism especially with detailing the difficult living conditions which the citizens in his film have suffered together with their equally challenging journey, the poignancy present especially with the emotions to which are captured in The Emigrants is truly something of its own. It can already be expected when you have phenomenal performances from Sweden’s national treasures Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, but The Emigrants also presents so much more at hand.

Watch the trailer right here.

All images via Warner Bros.

Directed by Jan Troell
Screenplay by Jan Troell, Bengt Forslund, from novels by Vilhelm Moberg
Produced by Bengt Forslund
Starring Liv Ullmnann, Max von Sydow, Eddie Axberg, Monica Zetterlund
Release Year: 1971
Running Time: 191 minutes



  1. Jan Troell is very talented. The Emigrants is a really great movie. The sequel, The New Land, is a notch below its predecessor, but it is a really good movie on its own terms. I’m a fan of both productions Great review!

    Liked by 1 person


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