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Movie Critic Article: Introducing Jan Troell

I am back, sniffing into the yellowing pages of my old copy of Changing.
I had similar experiences with books that died under (or because of my) over-usage. There are books that one never seizes to go back to some of their pages as if they have the secret code to a certain happiness embedded for one to uncover.
"A Writer's Notebook", "Exile and the Kingdom", the deeper parts of "Anna Karenina", to name a few; these books made me act like an innocent child who believed in a certain discovery that would be revealed to him in one of the sentences. An epiphany. A revelation that did not require more than a re-reading (no prayers, no pledges) and that was not open to all. Liv Ullmann's small book on bits of her autobiography has this same effect. The only impediment would be that my copy of Ullmann's book looks and feels like so much used by the previous user(s) that I must not expect any magic to have been left over for me to enjoy from re-readings. Well, other than the fleeting unownable pleasure of getting to know the subject matter of the book so well.

The problem with me is that I seem to be the only person who wants to put these writings in Changing in the class of story-telling against all odds of classification. And I am not as over-ambitious in that, as one book reviewer who described it as in 'a class of its own'!  He, too, was probably afraid of claiming any story-telling features to it. But I am not.

You know what, these authors always cause their readers great embarrassment. Liv Ullmann in an interview categorically said NO to a question about whether she tried 'writing' a novel! She also went further in defeating my allegation that she is a good shortstory writer by hiring a writer to write for her her latest book of memories! Ok, why am I so insistent on entering Liv Ullmann in the list of short story writers? The answer could be the features, the sequences or 'in/unsequences', the looks of her writings, the choice of words or points of view. The.......! lots of identifying characteristics. But what about The feeling? That one descriptor of literary writing that is meant for itself; that which the writing is hoped to convey. That positive thing all modes of expression pursue but many rarely attain.
Here is how Ullmann writes about Jan Troell while they were doing movies away from their homes; in the wilderness of Hollywood:
Jan Troell was secure in his own country. He padded about with a camera, captured the most beautiful landscapes, photographing for posterity life between people in a way few could emulate.
The Emigrants and The New Land were great successes in Scandinavia, first as films and later on television. And when they were shown in America, the films were praised and celebrated there as well.
Now Jan and I met again, after working together in Sweden; this time in California, to make Zandy's Bride for Warner Brothers. He was homesick the whole time.
Where previously he had been surrounded by a team of fifteen, who worked together for a year of warmth and trust and friendship, he now met with a hundred total strangers.
We filmed in the lovely mountains near Carmel, one of the most beautiful landscapes in America: Big Sur.
Every morning we drove in long black limousines from the hotel with its heated swimming pool and hamburgers. We would leave in thick mist, stare into the gray and tell each other that there could not possibly be enough light for filming today. Afer an hour the cars left the highway to continue on a narrow, twisted road. Another hour of winding up the mountain, still in mist. Then all at once- in the space of a few feet- just around a bend- the landscape opened in all its glory. We came to a new nature and a different climate. Under us the fog. Here, far up, we found the same miracle day after day: a world of blazing sun and enormous green slopes, meadow flowers I had never seen before. There were wild pigs and mountain lions and many, many rattlesnakes.
They had built a little homestead, complete in every detail, painted and made to look as if it had been there, half overshadowed by enormous elms, for an eternity of years.
There they waited every morning for Jan: the crew of a hundred.
Seeing them always gave him a shock, and he would take Gene Hackman and me aside, trying to make the intimate moment with us last as long as possible. Until, with dragging feet, he had to walk to the others; issue instructions, plan, be a leader-everything that he didn't want and couldn't do.
While he looked with longing at the camera, his instrument, which he was not allowed to touch here, the union kept a sharp watch to ensure that everyone kept to his own job; and in America, Jan's contract only gave him permission to direct.

Jan Troell

Once we shut ourselves inside the little house and said that we wanted to rehearse on our own. Jan had a hand-held camera. It was almost like the old days. Following my movements as if he were a part of me, sensitively and closely he photographed one of the loveliest scenes in the film: when Hanna is yearning to get away, looks at her few belongings from home, and collapses in tears over her traveling chest.

They invited this great artist to their country because they admired the poetry conveyed in his pictures. Then they took his tool from his hands and hoped he would repeat the miracle for them.
I, who didn't have his responsibility, was happy. Nature was the basis of this joy. I had forgotten that field flowers looked like this. How good it was to sit on the ground and feel the freshness of pure air all around you.
I broke out in a rash all over my body from poisonous plants that grew there, stepped cautiously so as not to surprise a snake in the grass. Enjoyed the sight of Linn when she rode about with the men who looked after the horses.
Under a tree Jan Troell sat and wrote letters to home.


It is what Jan Troell, the prominent Swedish filmmaker, has been identified with!  He is known to have mastered his tool, the camera, to create lyrical images of reality deeply anchored in nature. That makes nostalgia a desirable human state! Therefore Troell is, unsurprisingly, almost unknown in north America!
In the spring of 2001, in a visit to New York, Troell, seemingly aimlessly, shot the footage in the clip below. A few months later, the colossal event of September eleven took place. It is not (the footage) quite representative of his 'cinema' but, as it is now to us, it was available to him to 'do something about it'!


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