The Emigrants

1971 | Drama | Swedish with English subtitles | 191 minutes


Karl-Oskar Nilsson, his wife Kristina, and Karl’s younger brother Robert live on a small farm in Sweden. The family struggles with poor weather, meager harvests, and hunger. As Kristina gives birth to four children, Karl -Oskar can barely support his family. He now feels their only hope is to emigrate to America. Kristina initially rejects the idea of leaving her homeland and risking the lives of her four small children. When the family loses their daughter Anna, after she overeats unfermented grain, Karl-Oskar and Kristina pack their things and move out. They board a steamer to America and conditions  are horrible. They sleep in overcrowded cabins, the food is barely edible, and many die during the voyage. One passenger tells Karl -Oskar about the Minnesota Territory where many Swedes are already settled. They arrive in New York and board the train for the long ride to Minnesota. When they arrive, Karl-Oskar  carefully looks for a piece of land that’s fertile and near water. He finds the perfect spot on the shores of Lake Ki Chi Saga. NOTE: Their continuing saga is depicted in the follow up film The New Land.

Max von Sydow (Karl Oskar Nilsson) / Liv Ullman (Kristina Nilsson) / Eddie Axberg (Robert Nilsson)
Why Stream This Film?
It’s superbly special—a Swedish film but also very American. Everyone in this Swedish production was able to describe in detail the trauma felt by these hardy emigrants who risked their lives for  a better existence. The result is a masterpiece.
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 92%
  • Academy Awards: Nominated, Best Foreign Language Film; Best Director (Jan Troell); Best Adapted Screenplay (Jan Troell & Bengt Forslund); Best Actress (Liv Ullman)
  • Golden Globe Awards: Winner, Best Foreign Language Film; Best Actress, Drama (Liv Ullman)
  • National Board of Review: Best Foreign Film
  • New York Film Critics Circle: Winner, Best Actress (Liv Ullman)
Swedish director Jan Troell’s film masterpiece is made up of dozens of moments when hope and reality clash as the new Americans take measure of the actual situation they find themselves in. The film is long but infinitely absorbing and moving. Troell has a feeling for the historical past and for the meaning and beauty of ordinary lives. He has found the perfect casting for his emigrant couple in those two splendid Swedish actors, Max von Sydow and Liv Ullman. With the rest of the excellent cast, they bring a purity, a grit and a depth of purpose to their roles that the original settlers must have had.
Roger Ebert

The acting is superb by all members of the cast, headed by Von Sydow and Ullman. In moments, the harsh, remarkably unsentimental film achieves a lyrical tone due to the imagery which was created and edited by Troell.
Emanuel Levy

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