I knew when I started this project that I would have trouble finding some of the movies, but I thought that the ones that would be hard to find would be some of the more obscure ones from the 1930s and 40s, not from the 70s. And I wouldn’t even say that Utvandrarna is obscure; some of my library coworkers remembered seeing it when it came out. Not only that, the Academy thought this movie was so awesome that it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film the year it came out in Sweden, and then for Best Picture when it was released in America the following year. Despite all this awesomeness, none of the three library systems that I have cards for had it. I had to order it from a university library in Minnesota. The fact that it’s so hard to get makes me really sad, because it’s a fabulous movie.
So what’s the story? Life in Sweden is hard in the 19th century. Abusive employers, failed crops, and a strict religion give different members of a family different reasons to leave Sweden for America. Utvandrarna chronicles this family’s journey from Sweden to Minnesota.
The Good: The acting is amazing. Liv Ullman is Kristina, who grows from a young newlywed to a mother of many children. She has some heartbreaking moments as she portrays the struggles of daily life in Sweden and the trials of moving a large family to an utterly foreign country. Kristina’s husband is Karl Oskar. He yearns for a better life for his family, but is unsure of how to reach that goal. Max von Sydow does an excellent job at showing Karl Oskar’s torment. The other standout in my mind was Monica Zetterlund as Ulrika, a reformed prostitute. She’s an outcast because of her past, but she both wants and disdains acceptance. She’s a fascinating character and Zetterlund’s performance was fantastic. The other actors were all just as good. No one seemed out of place or bad at acting.
I loved the set design. I’m kind of obsessed with ships, and I’ve always thought it would be kind of cool to sail across the Atlantic in a reenactment of what some of my immigrant ancestors did, but after seeing Utvandrarna, I’m not sure I could do it. I really got a sense of the tininess of the ship and the cramped quarters. The scenes on the ship were almost claustrophobic. The other sets were just as good at building the world of the 1840s. The costumes were good, too. I’m not an expert on Swedish farming clothes of the 1840s, but at they felt right for the time and place.
The Bad: While the set design and costume design seemed authentically 1840s, the hair screamed 1970s. The men’s haircuts were especially bad. They all had Luke Skywalker hair. (And yes, I realize Star Wars came later than this movie, but they still had Luke Skywalker hair.)
The Ugly: Utvandrarna was nominated for five Oscars over two separate years. It has a compelling story and great acting. And yet it is unavailable here in North America except for in an edited, DUBBED form. Dubbing is the worst. I thought this was what The Criterion Collection was for – to preserve fantastic movies that may not be the most popular at the moment. Come on, Criterion Collection people! If the movie is that impressive with dubbing, how amazing would it be in Swedish with English subtitles?
Oscars Won: None.
Oscar Nominations 1973: Best picture; best actress in a leading role (Liv Ullman); best director; best writing, screenplay based on material from another medium.
Oscar Nominations 1972: Best foreign language film.