Whilst countries such as France have been prolific in their output of creative cinema, it forever seems as if the same could not have been said of Sweden, living forever under the shadow of Ingmar Bergman until recent times when pieces such as Let The Right One In have been allowed garner any significant buzz. This is especially disappointing when one considers the work of Jan Troell, the often forgotten director of The Emigrants.
Again, as in many of his works Troell focuses on the lives of the suffering and the dejected, outside of well-to-do society and outside of our time. Here, he follows the lives of the Larrson family, often jumping several years in his story-telling but always retaining its consistency of tone and depth. Maria Larrson is the matriarch of an ever expanding brood of children whilst constantly suffering the abuse and embarrassment of her husband Sigge who seems to be capable of nothing more than disappointing her. Maria expresses what little of herself that she can through the camera she once won in a lottery.
One of the strongest elements to the piece is Troell’s ability to both overcome the unfortunate Kodak title and never stray too far down the road of over-sentimentalizing the circumstances within which the characters are confined; and confined they are through the artful cinematography and sense of scale that keep our attentions on what is immediately before us. The smallness of sets and personal situations give the piece an almost play-like feel without it feeling forced or as if we are being subjected to an experiment within the same.
The examination of photography is both historically accurate and the fixed nature of the image also allows Troell to explore it’s relationship with time itself.
Maria Heiskanen’s performance as Maria is perhaps the most simple and yet effective seen so far this year – resilient, pragmatic and at times extremely tender. She never overacts or tries to garner our sympathies.
Ending not out of the need for a happy ending but merely the realistic, the portrait of the Larrsons comes full circle and not even in that moment does it allow itself to be compromised by self-martyrdom