Jan Troell. His name is familiar and you’ve seen his movies. But he is also doomed to remain in the shadows of the much bigger name of Ingmar Bergman. Why is that? And who is Jan Troell? We decided to investigate.
Troell’s latest movie “Everlasting Moments” (Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick)—also nominated for a Golden Globe Award—was on the shortlist for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film but did not become selected to the final five.
Born in Limhamn outside Malmö in 1931, Jan Troell worked as an elementary school teacher for many years and started making short films in the 1960’s. He began his career as director of photography for fellow Skåning, film director Bo Widerberg. Soon, however, Troell made his debut with “Här har du ditt liv” (“Here’s Your Life”), a film based on the autobiographical novel by Eyvind Johnson. Ingmar Bergman called it “one of the uncompromising masterpieces of Swedish film history,” and Troell’s career quickly took off. Two years later, his “Ole dole doff” won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival. But it was with “Utvandrarna” (“The Emigrants”) and its sequel “Nybyggarna” (“The New Land), 1971 and 1972 respectively, that Jan Troell arrived as a director on the international scene.
These two epic films about a group of peasants emigrating from the Swedish countryside to America in the 19th century were groundbreaking. “Utvandrarna” was nominated for several Academy Awards. Perhaps picking aristocratic Max von Sydow and Norwegian Liv Ullman as the couple from Småland seemed odd, but their faces grew on us, and we fell in love with them as Karl-Oskar and Kristina. The film itself is a family’s odyssey from rural poverty to a new life in Minnesota.
Buoyed by that success, Jan Troell decided to try his hand in Hollywood, but he didn’t do too well. In 1974 he made a film with Gene Hackman called “Zandy’s Bride” and some years later there was “The Hurricane” starring Jason Robards and Mia Farrow. Eventually Troell returned home.
In 1982 he was at it again, with “Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd” about S.A. Andrée’s disastrous Arctic balloon expedition in 1897. Like so many times before, Troell chose Max von Sydow as his protagonist. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in the foreign film category. Almost a decade later, Troell was attacked in the news for the making of “Il Capitano” (“Il Capitano: A Swedish Requiem”), a controversial film for its true story of the brutal murder of a Swedish family, which had taken place just a few years earlier. The film took home the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.
Troell is known as a lyrical filmmaker, a great filmmaker. But not quite as good as Bergman. Or at least not as original.
“Bergman’s films have always meant a lot to me,” Troell himself has said.
And the two directors seem to have quite a lot in common, besides being Swedes. They are both independent, working outside the common curve, and they both use Swedish history and myths as source and material. Unlike Bergman, Troell is not only the director, but the photographer and editor of his films as well, which has given him an unusual amount of control over his films.
Bergman’s desperate soul searching and magic cannot be found in Jan Troell’s films, however. And although his films are often very beautiful, they have been criticized for being somewhat bleak and conservative, at times plodding in pace. But even the sun has its spots.
And now, again, we turn to Jan Troell and his latest film, the much-praised “Everlasting Moments” (“Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick”). Based on the true story of Maria Larsson, a young Swedish working class woman in the early 1900’s who wins a camera in a lottery and goes on to become a photographer, “Everlasting Moments” took home the grand slam at this year’s Guldbagge Awards (the Swedish Oscar) where it won in five categories.
The film was also selected as the official Swedish submission for the 81st Academy Awards in the category Best Foreign Language Film. More than enough reasons to celebrate Jan Troell. A review of the film was made by film expert and cineast Niclas Goldberg below.
By Eva stenskär
Everlasting Moments R E V I E W
In Everlasting Moments (“Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick”), acclaimed Swedish director Jan Troell takes a familiar path capturing the uncomfortable living situation of the working class through the magic of photography. Troell is a craftsman whose tools are exquisite images, natural light and details. Like a butterfly in a net, he captures the spirit of the time in early 20th century Sweden.
Set against a backdrop of socialism, Maria, a hard-working, brave mother gracefully played by Maria Heiskanen (she carries the film on her slender shoulders), discovers her talent for photographing unforgettable images. The film contrasts Maria’s relationships with her hot-headed husband, Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt) and Sebastian (Jesper Christensen), her photography mentor. Told in a low key musical rhythm, the visual manner of the story is put together in a bleak style. Everlasting Moments follows all imaginable art rules and the acting is terrific (keep an extra eye on Christensen). It’s a substantial piece to be appreciated more, but the movie never takes off. Instead, it collects dust before it ends. Movies don’t always have to be innovative, but when the conventional overrules, the mystery has no space to evolve. Although this film adds to Troell’s repertoire, it won’t be his most enduring piece.
Jan Troell. Photo: Ole Kragh-Jacobsen, courtesy Final Cut, DK