Jan Troell's Everlasting Movie Moments

Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell's The Emigrants

Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell makes long movies that often don’t feel long enough. A former schoolteacher who cut his teeth on documentaries, Troell serves as the co-writer, cinematographer and editor on nearly all of his films, a feat that even dazzled critic Pauline Kael, who called him a “master.” Troell is 77 years old now and scheduled to appear at LACMA Friday to introduce his marvelous new film, Everlasting Moments (set to be released by IFC this spring), which kicks off the museum’s two-weekend retrospective of his work. Troell’s captivating and crazily ambitious debut feature, Here Is Your Life (1967), is set in the early 1900s and finds 14-year-old Olof Persson (Eddie Axberg) leaving his family farm to make his way in the world, first as a lumber-mill worker and later as tent-show movie projectionist. A philosopher in the making, Olof muses endlessly (and sweetly) on the promise of socialism, the revelatory nature of sex, and like so many Troell characters, stares in wonder at images captured on film. Axberg is a heartbreaker, and Troell used him again, brilliantly, in The Emigrants (1971) and The New Land (1972), two films that are, in effect, a single six-and-a-half-hour epic. When the films were released in the U.S. in the 1970s (to great success, including a total of six Oscar nominations), 20 to 30 minutes of footage were cut from each part, but now, thanks to a Swedish Film Institute restoration, Troell’s original versions can be seen. Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann star as Karl and Kristina Nilsson, a young Swedish couple who abandon a failing farm in 1844 and move to America, along with their many children and Karl’s dreamy-eyed brother (Axberg). As in so many of his films (including his latest), Troell appears fascinated by the institution of marriage. As embodied by the sensuously connected Sydow and Ullmann, Karl and Kristina survive impossible hardship by constantly rekindling their passion for one another; it’s the root of love that forms the foundation of their new lives. Steeped in a reverence for the natural world and awe for the boulder-moving, blizzard-surviving rigors of humans who set themselves against pitiless landscapes, Troell’s “emigrant” films are so deeply moving and richly involving that time and the outside world fall away. The new movie year begins here and in glory. (Los Angeles County Museum of Art; thru Sat., Jan. 17.


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