This mesmerizing debut by the great Swedish director Jan Troell (The Emigrants, The New Land) is an epic bildungsroman and a multilayered representation of early twentieth-century Sweden. Based on a series of semi-autobiographical novels by Nobel Prize winner Eyvind Johnson, 'Here Is Your Life' follows a working-class boy's development, from naive teenager to intellectually curious young adult, from logger to movie projectionist to politically engaged man of the people—all set against the backdrop of a slowly industrializing rural landscape. With its mix of modernist visual ingenuity and elegantly structured storytelling, this enchanting film—presented here in its original nearly three-hour cut—is a reminder that Troell is one of European cinema's greatest and most sensitive illuminators of the human condition.
"I don't want to be comfortable!"
Some movies are simply best observed as experiences. With any film you go in with a set of expectations for what it's going to be about, performances, or even whether or not you're going to enjoy it. You hope for the best and prepare yourself for the worst. Then you get a film like Jan Troell's 'Here Is Your Life.' A movie so captivating and beautiful to look at you can't help but get swept up into the film and be carried away.
Olof Persson (Eddie Axberg) is a young man who has come of age and must enter the workforce. As someone of simple upbringing, he isn't destined for a life of greatness by the measure of scholarly achievements. Olof is destined to become one of the masses of people who work and toil away at meager jobs just to earn enough of a living to survive. As Olof tries to find his place in the world, he experiences the best parts of life and the worst parts of societal exploitation. While he attempts to carve out a living for himself, he also attempts to find someone to share life with. He moves from one job to the next and one young woman to the next while learning the intricacies of relationships. Like most people Olof is ill prepared for these experiences and must navigate the situations he finds himself in.
'Here Is Your Life' is a difficult movie to summarize effectively as the film is largely a series of episodes in Olof's life journey. In part it is a coming of age story, but it isn't about him going to school, meeting women, and learning a tough life lesson. 'Here Is Your Life' feels more like a film about a young man coming to learn about what he doesn't want to be in life than actually finding a place in the world to call his own. As Olof moves from one job to the next or from one relationship to the next, we learn about the various intricacies or failures of why things don't fit for him. As the world is caught up in the ravages of the Great War, Olof learns he's a product of a dying era. He's been molded to fit in a world that no longer exists. As the world changes around him, Olof must adjust and figure out his place or risk becoming one of the jaded older workers he meets as he takes on one job after another. This is a movie about working in life and surviving just as much as it is about seeing Olof's personal journey.
'Here Is Your Life' for me was one of those movies that I sat through the three hour run time with my eyes plastered wide open. From the beautiful cinematography to the intricate characters, I couldn't look away. True, the film is populated with a number of interesting characters played by great actors - including the always amazing Max Von Sydow - but this isn't a movie about them, it's a movie about Olof and his journey and Eddie Axberg brings a raw emotional presence to the role. What I think I love about his character and they way he plays it is how easily relatable it is. Some people find their paths in life laid out for them easier than others. Olof is one of those people that has to try any number of jobs or date different women to find what suits him. That somehow feels more normal, authentic and more interesting than someone who grew up living a pre-ordained destiny.
At Just short of three hours, 'Here Is Your Life' may feel a bit taxing for some people, and I can certainly understand why. Meandering is a word that quickly comes to mind as some of the segments can feel a bit redundant and the changes in Olof's careers and situations are very sudden and happen without much explanation. However, I will say that this film is a journey - like you're watching someone else's life unfold and you experience all of the parts of it - even the pieces that aren't as exciting as others. Having never seen the shorter version of the film, I'm not an authority on whether or not this film is too long, but I will say that I was captivated through the entire run. By the time the film ended I was gloriously exhausted. The film is an emotional rollercoaster that provides some amazing insights about the way the world works and how we all fit into a society and how the actions of an individual can have an effect on the whole. I may have been exhausted by the time I finished my first viewing of 'Here Is Your Life,' but I was ready to start watching it again immediately.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Here Is Your Life' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to The Criterion Collection. Pressed on a Region A locked BD50 disc, the disc comes housed in the traditional Criterion Collection hard clear plastic case with an essay by Mark Le Fanu inside.
Minted from a fresh 2k scan, 'Here Is Your Life' makes for an absolutely splendid 1.66:1 1080p presentation. From the first moment Olof is walking to the train tracks to the final moments of him walking in the snow, the image never fails to please. There is some age related wear here and there, but it is negligible when compared to the greater whole. With fine film grain retained throughout, detail levels are fantastic. Facial features, clothing, and the distressed set design come through with authentic clarity. The black and white cinematography is breath taking in places allowing for some incredibly inky blacks that create a wonderful sense of depth. Shadow separation is equally impressive as there is little to no crush troubles to report. Just as impressive as the black and white photography are the little flourishes of color that pop up. All around this is a stunning transfer and those who enjoy the output of Criterion should be pleased to see they brought their A game for this release.
With a robust LPCM mono track, 'Here Is Your Life' enjoys a pretty fantastic audio track. As expected for a dialogue heavy movie, dialogue comes through crystal clear. Even as a mono track there is a nice sense of imaging as there is just enough separation between the dialogue, sound effects, and the score from Erik Nordgren so that track sounds natural and lifelike. Keeping to the midranges, levels are equally balanced so you never have to struggle to hear what is being said. For those like myself who don't speak Swedish, the film's new English subtitle track reads authentically and seems to fit the spoken dialogue nicely.
Introduction By Filmmaker Mike Leigh: (HD 4:41) A simple feature where Mile Leigh explains why he loves this movie.
Jan Troell In Conversation with Peter Cowie: (HD 33:48) Peter Cowie discusses Troell's career trajectory how he came into filmmaking and his approach to material.
New Interview with Eddie Axberg: (HD 15:47) An interesting interview Eddie Axberg and how he became involved in the industry and the project
New Interview with Bengt Forslund: (HD 14:55) The screenwriter/producer discusses how he moved into making short movies and industrial films and the challenges of adapting the novel Romanen Om Olof by Eyvind Johnson into a screenplay.
Short Film Interlude In The Marshland (1965): (HD 30:10) Directed by Troell, starring Ma Von Sydow, and based on a short story by Eyvind Johnson. It's easy to see this short as a trial run with the author's material and how cinematic it could potentially be.
I tend to go into every movie I see hoping to enjoy it. No one wants to watch a bad movie - at least not one that isn't entertaining. I didn't really know what to expect from 'Here Is Your Life,' but I am pleased to say I was a bit taken aback by it. It is such a beautifully shot, intricate and emotional film, it's easy to see why The Criterion Collection pulled out all the stops for this Blu-ray presentation. Featuring a top tier A/V presentation and a swath of extensive and informative extras, it's very easy for me to call this one as being highly recommended.