The New Land (1972) 720p

Movie Poster
The New Land (1972) - Movie Poster
Drama | Western
Frame Rate:
23.976 fps
Swedish 2.0  
Run Time:
202 min
IMDB Rating:
8 / 10 
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Directors: Jan Troell [Director] ,

Movie Description:
The continuing saga of the Nilssons - husband and wife Karl-Oskar and Kristina, their several young children with another on the way, Karl-Oskar's younger brother Robert, and some of their extended family members such as Kristina's Uncle Danjel - and several of their Swedish compatriots is presented. This phase of their story begins where their saga in The Emigrants (1971) left off, in the fall of 1850, having just arrived in Minnesota from their native Sweden to begin what they hope will be a better life. They left Sweden because of the harsh and worsening conditions of their farm life, and chose Minnesota based on the stories of many of their Swedish friends who emigrated there before them. While Karl-Oskar goes through the process of setting up their homestead, eighteen year old Robert already has bigger dreams of striking it big in the California gold rush, something he is reluctant to tell Karl-Oskar until he is ready to leave if only having been under Karl-Oskar's guardianship ...


  • The New Land (1972) - Movie Scene 1
  • The New Land (1972) - Movie Scene 2
  • The New Land (1972) - Movie Scene 1

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Great but tough to watch

Great but tough to watch - slow, slow and strange music

each emigration story is different

The Scandinavian film festival at the local cinematheque concluded several weeks ago, but yesterday,as a follow-up, we watched the second film of the mid-19th century Swedish emigration to America saga based on Vilhelm Moberg's novels and directed by Jan Troell. 'The New Land' (or 'Nybyggarna' in Swedish) was released on screen in 1972, one year after 'The Emigrants' and in modern terminology it can be considered a 'sequel' although the whole was probably from start conceived as a tandem of two films. The film continues the epic of the survivors of the group of peasants who, driven by economic constraints and religious persecutions in their native Sweden, had crossed the ocean to begin a new life in America. The new country, represented not only a territory waiting to be explored and a nature that was demanding to be subdued but also a conflicting history ignored by most newcomers. This second film is the story of the first decades of their new life, of the confrontation with different mentalities and the realities of conflicts and contradictions about which the new immigrants knew nothing until then.

Emigration stories are rarely simple, in some respects similar, and differ in many others. 'The Emigrants', the first film was obviously a Swedish saga. The action in 'The New Land' takes place entirely in the United States, but the story is again told from a Swedish perspective (the movie is spoken 99% of the time in Swedish) and the film does not become an American saga on screen. The authors of the script adapting Moberg's novel have chosen to focus on the fate of the Nilsson family - Carl Oskar, his wife Kristina and his younger brother Robert. The rest of the characters, including the route companions from 'The Emigrants', become at best secondary characters. We watch the struggle for survival and the hard work of the family that builds - with their own hands - a farm in Minnesota and a new destiny for themselves as American citizens. But the perspective is still that of immigrants, even when the action broadens its scope and describes the conflict between the newcomers and the US government on the one hand and the first inhabitants of America (the "Indians") on the other. Removed by fraud and violence from their lands to make room for the immigrants, the later respond with violence and cruelty, their revolt being repressed with even more violence.

The Indian war episode in the movie is the only time when the historical perspective is a little wider, the rest of the story taking place on a patch of land on the edge of a lake in Minnesota, and focusing on the relationships between Carl Oskar and Kristina, on their struggle to control nature, and on the adaptation of newcomers to the surrounding economy and society. The quality of the film consists primarily of the human dimension of the experience that the viewers live together with the characters. The heroes have to face the sometimes hostile nature, the older and newer locals and the rules of a world different from the one they lived in, but they also carry their own ballast of traditions, prejudices and religious conflicts imported from the old country. The resulting period landscape is truthful and impressive, this is the result of the vision of the director and of the wonderful acting of Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, two of Ingmar Bergman's favorite actors. Director Jan Troell patiently and painstakingly builds together all the blocks of a cinematic edifice that largely succeeds to pass the test of time despite the length and slow pace of the story which challenges modern viewers. The nature that surrounds the heroes, sometimes generous, sometimes threatening, also plays an important role and is filmed with the specific sensitivity of Scandinavian film-makers. Even if not all the elements of the story are equally interesting and important, and even if not all the characters have consistency and clear outlines, I remained after watching 'The New Land' with the impression of a human and historical document, of a solid and sensitive cinematographic work.

Authentic tale of life in 1850's Minnesota

Picking up right where 'The Emigrants' left off, this film tells the story of an Swedish farming family who have staked out a claim and being their life anew in Minnesota. It's done in a highly realistic way, and we really feel the struggle of building a house, clearing the land, facing language difficulties, enduring the cold of winter, not having much money, and the possibly mortal threat of sicknesses. While it's giving us 1850's rural life in an authentic way, without a lot of glitz and a slower pace coming along as a part of that, it somehow does so without ever lagging over its 200+ minute run time, at least for me.

The story-telling a little more disjoint in this film, giving us bits of life in America almost as if in chapters, some parts of which we see once and then are never mentioned again. One example is the family's neighbors chastising them for their friendship with the former prostitute Ulrika (Monica Zetterlund), who has married a Baptist minister and converted to that faith, which they see as sacrilegious, and failing to note the irony in this view, given their own persecution prior to emigrating. It's a powerful scene, but nothing more comes of it. Similarly, we see a brief interval where Karl-Oscar (Max von Sydow) faces the possibility of going off to fight in America's Civil War after having been in the country for less than ten years, a perspective which was fascinating to me, but after he's rejected because of a limp, we hear nothing more about the distant fighting. Maybe this is like life.

Director Jan Troell is more daring stylistically during the flashback sequence involving the brother (Eddie Axberg), who goes off with a friend (Pierre Lindstedt) to try to find gold in California. Without spoiling anything, the surreal way he portrays this amplifies their harrowing ordeal, and I liked how the story behind how he returns with so much money is revealed.

The cast is wonderful, led by von Sydow and Liv Ullmann who have several great scenes. In one of the difficult moments, we see the attitude towards women in the period shown when she's told that getting pregnant again might prove fatal to her given past complications. She feels immense sadness over this because she feels like she wouldn't be a wife if this is true, and in turn, that she wouldn't be able to sleep with her husband if she couldn't risk pregnancy.

Unlike 'The Emigants', there is acknowledgment that the land these Swedish-Americans are farming was stolen from the Native Americans, but this is a film that is definitely told from a European perspective. Karl-Oscar defends himself, and we sympathize with him - he had no part in any of that, paid the government for the land, and has put in a lot of toil. We don't see any of the atrocities that the white settlers or the government committed, but we see some horrifying things the native Sioux do when backed into a corner and starving. One of the acts done after the killing of an entire white family is so brutally heinous, cruel, and disgusting that it seems to justify the mass hanging of Native Americans which follows. The events seem to be based loosely on the events of the Sioux Uprising in 1862, which led to the mass hanging of 38 Sioux in Minnesota. Still, I give the film credit for directly confronting the moral dilemma, though I struggle, wondering if there is an element here that is in a small way accepting one of America's two original sins. The film successfully strives for honesty through the lens of this family, achieves that, shows us just how hard life was in this period, and lets the viewer then grapple with what it all means. It made me think of the quote from Joyce, History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
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