Here is Your Life Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Engrossing and Enervating Debut

The first feature film from Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell has its visual merits, but it's bogged down by a leaden narrative.
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A film that’s both engrossing and enervating at turns, Here is Your Life kicked off the feature-film career of Swedish director Jan Troell, an art house sensation in the ’70s with breakthrough duo The Emigrants and The New Land. The multi-talented Troell directed, shot, edited, and co-wrote the screenplay for Here is Your Life, based on one of a series of semi-autobiographical novels by Eyvind Johnson, and though Troell’s camerawork and editing are often inventive, the film never really breaks free from its novelistic shackles.

After his father falls ill, teenager Olof (Eddie Axberg) is forced to leave his sickness-ridden home and become a member of Sweden’s working class. Olof takes a variety of jobs in succession — logger, sawmill worker, poster hanger, movie concession peddler — and the film becomes defined by Olof’s labor and its corresponding disappointments and humiliations. Romances and a brief foray into political activism dot the landscape of Olof’s life, but it’s work that dominates the film.

Troell has a roving, curious camera, and his eliding editing style makes scenes glide, skating through the passage of time with a mysterious grace. It’s both odd and unfortunate that the film’s narrative feels so leaden — relentlessly chronological outside of a few flashbacks, and exceedingly focused on the surface of events. There’s little need to tease out the cause and effect behind Olof’s actions; every decision he makes directly proceeds from the events of the previous scene.

Troell understands the power of the human face, and selectively deployed close-ups of supporting players (Ulla Sjöblom, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow) can be quite moving. It’s hard to say the same about Axberg, whose blank expressions accompany a mostly affectless performance, devoid of a tangible sense of inner life. The quotidian events of the narrative are especially dull when we struggle to empathize with the person they’re happening to over the course of nearly three hours.

The Criterion Collection presents Here is Your Life in a 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer that’s sourced from a new 2K digital restoration. Troell’s black-and-white photography looks phenomenal here, with strong depth of image, consistent sharpness, well balanced black and white levels and a film-like grain structure. The image is nearly pristine throughout. The film also features several color-painted images and a brief color 16mm flashback sequence, reminiscent of an old, dusty photograph with its de-saturated images. The lossless mono soundtrack is free from any obvious distractions, presenting both dialogue and music cleanly.

A number of new extras are featured on the disc, including an appreciative introduction from Mike Leigh and newly filmed interviews with Axberg and producer/co-screenwriter Bengt Forslund. A conversation between Troell and historian Peter Cowie covers the film’s production along with a discussion of the industry in Sweden. Also included is Troell’s short Interlude in the Marshland, part of omnibus film 4X4, which was released the year before Here is Your Life. Rounding out the extras is an insert with an essay by scholar Mark Le Fanu.

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