Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell, who directs, co-writes, shoots & edits most of his work. never recaptured the broad appeal he won Stateside with THE EMIGRANTS/’71 and THE NEW LAND/’72. This recent saga, a true tale from his wife’s family that might have pleased a similar audience, went begging for attention; such is the commercial black hole that passes for foreign-language film distribution in the States these days. Here, in the opening decades of the last century, the hard working family is headed by a violent-prone dad whose flirting eye & taste for ale threaten their precarious hold on room & board. He and the stoically strong mom & seven kids stick it out in Sweden as many of their friends & relatives take off for America. While their lives over the first quarter of the last century are both finely observed and filled with plenty of interest & incident (unions, radical politics & ship dock labor all get a fine workout), the story turns on, of all things, a bourgeois hobby: Mom’s fixation on photography. A camera won at a fair back in her courting days is pulled out for pawning. But the gentlemanly proprietor at the nearest camera shop insists that she try it out before consigning it. The passion for picture-taking comes and goes over the years, but it lends purpose & identify to her life, as if justifying a grueling existence. Troell tends to overdo the autumnal mist of times past, how much more effective the soft focus of the photos would appear against a vividly sharp & naturally colored environment. And the slight, self-congratulatory tone he affixes to this artisan-mom is unnecessary. But her story is never less than appealing or revelatory. No small thing.
DOUBLE-BILL: The complete EMIGRANTS Saga is really too long for Double-Bill material. At 6 hours, it’s a triple bill all on its own! But with Norway in for Sweden, you can compare & contrast family dynamics with George Stevens’ classic I REMEMBER MAMA/’49. Those Scandinavian mothers are an indomitable bunch!