8.0/10
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The Emigrants (1971)

Utvandrarna (original title)
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.

Director:

Jan Troell

Writers:

Bengt Forslund (screenplay), Jan Troell (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Reviews
Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 7 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Max von Sydow ... Karl Oskar
Liv Ullmann ... Kristina
Eddie Axberg ... Robert
Sven-Olof Bern Sven-Olof Bern ... Nils (as Svenolof Bern)
Aina Alfredsson Aina Alfredsson ... Märta
Allan Edwall ... Danjel
Monica Zetterlund ... Ulrika
Pierre Lindstedt ... Arvid
Hans Alfredson ... Jonas Petter
Ulla Smidje ... Inga-Lena - Danjel's Hustru
Eva-Lena Zetterlund Eva-Lena Zetterlund ... Elin - Ulrika's Dotter
Gustaf Färingborg Gustaf Färingborg ... Prosten Brusander
Åke Fridell ... Aron på Nybacken
Agneta Prytz ... Fina-Kajsa
Halvar Björk ... Anders Månsson - Hennes Son
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Storyline

In the middle of the 19th century, Kristina and Karl-Oskar live in a small rural village in Smaaland (southern Sweden). They get married and try to make a living on a small spot of land. However, the small size of their land, the infertile soil, and some bad harvests make it tough. One of their children even starves to death. Thus, they decide to emigrate to the U.S. They meet a group of farmers with their families planning the emigration under the leadership of a banned priest. They sell everything and embark for the U.S. The journey on the sailing ship is long and tedious. Some of the emigrants will never reach the New World. Written by Gerhard Windecker <g.wind@mbox300.swipnet.se>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

a new land...a new hope...a new dream

Genres:

Drama | History

Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film was released to cinemas in Sweden on 8 March 1971 and opened in New York City on 24 September 1972, distributed by Warner Bros. The U.S. version of the film was cut from 190 to 150 minutes. See more »

Goofs

On the train west a character shows an American silver coin and yells out it has "In God We Trust" on it. The scene is the 1850s and the motto was not added to American silver coins until 1867. See more »

Quotes

Karl Oskar: What a rotten stench. What we need are clothes pins.
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Alternate Versions

Original release in Sweden ran 191 minutes; cut to 151 minutes for the North American theatrical release. See more »

Connections

Featured in Minns Ni? (1993) See more »

User Reviews

 
Wonderfully realistic
23 August 2019 | by gbill-74877See all my reviews

This film is so deeply immersive, taking its time to give us an incredibly realistic portrayal of what life was like in 1840's rural Sweden, and then an immigrant to America. The first hour or so is slow, but it establishes the world these people were living in, with hardships often threatening ruin, when child mortality rates in Sweden were 20-25%, and when superstition, ignorance, and religion were so dominant. The context is incredibly important to show the motivation to emigrate, and just how extraordinary the undertaking was. It also amplifies one of the film's best scenes, that backward glance they take at the old farm as they trundle down the road in their carriage. It's an enormous moment for not only them, but their children and descendants. To the film's credit, nothing is fast forwarded; we're not given simple cursory scenes in Sweden, cut to being on the ship, and then to arriving in a new land all smiles. We really feel the experience at each stage.

There are lots of little touches in the film, such as the family's reaction to being on a train for the first time, reminding us that railroads were a monumental innovation in the 19th century. The priest who is with them along with his followers because they were persecuted in Sweden doles out some sublime thoughts, such as reminding them that even lice are god's creation and that suffering because of them allows one to understand suffering in others better and to empathize. He also dispenses a lot of nonsense, such as the idea that they'll magically understand English when they land in America per his understanding of the Bible, and in general trying to attribute everything that happens in their little lives to divine favor or displeasure operating on them in ways he's always trying to explain after the fact.

The family is incredibly naïve about planning beyond the idea of 'going to America', and their rosy optimism of all the wonderful things they would find there. It's interesting that on the one hand they find a fellow Swede in Minnesota living in what his mother sees as squalor, but on the other hand, that they're free to stake out claims to beautiful, arable land, which is hard to fathom today. They are in some sense disillusioned, but in another sense, are in a paradise of sorts. There are lots of moments where fantasy and reality meet in the film, but it's in nuanced ways and never overplayed.

It's a fantastic moment when we get a brief glimpse of slaves in chains on a steamboat, and in those poor eyes get a heartstopping reminder that to others, coming to America was a very different, horrifying nightmare of an experience. So much for the idea that the young men had read about in Sweden, that "many of the slaves have better houses, food, and circumstances than peasants in Europe." Unfortunately while we might see a few Native Americans at one of the stops, the idea that the land these people from Sweden are claiming had been inhabited by people who were going through genocide is not articulated by the film, though it is in the sequel, 'The New Land.'

In terms of production value, there is a lot to love about the realism. We're not flooded with grand images of landscapes, and even the beauty we see in the woods or fields has a natural ruggedness to it. It's a very small moment, but at one point director Jan Troell gives us the sun on the water during a very serene moment with slow undulations, which I found simply exquisite, and such a contrast to the harshness of the ocean journey. The performances from Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, and the rest of the fine cast are unaffected and natural. The version I saw had unfortunately been dubbed in English though, and I think seeing it in Swedish with English subtitles would have been infinitely preferable, and much more in keeping with the spirit of the film, so if it's an option for you, I would certainly seek it out.


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Details

Country:

Sweden

Language:

Swedish | English

Release Date:

8 March 1971 (Sweden) See more »

Also Known As:

The Emigrants See more »

Filming Locations:

Copenhagen, Denmark See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$1,156,554
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color (Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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