The New York Times has released an article reviewing the latest Jan Troell film, The Last Sentence, as well as a brief overview of his life. Check it out here or below:
From “High Noon” to “Silkwood” and “The Insider,” the courageous loner who stands up to evil at great personal risk is a familiar film figure. Now the Swedish master Jan Troell has added to that gallery with “The Last Sentence,”his portrait of Torgny Segerstedt, a Swedish newspaper editor who was an early, ferocious and persistent critic of Hitler, defying both Nazi threats and his own government’s pleas not to undermine its neutral stance.
But “The Last Sentence,” which opens Friday, is anything but a hagiography. The rectitude and fearlessness of Segerstedt’s public stances contrasted sharply with a messy and conflicted private life, which Mr. Troell also mines: Segerstedt was haunted by his mother’s early death, treated his wife with indifference, even cruelty, and flaunted his relationship with a morphine-addicted mistress who was the wife of his closest friend.
It was precisely that “division between the one you want to be and the one you are, and the judgment you put on yourself for not being the one you wanted to be” that made the project attractive when he was first approached about it, Mr. Troell said in a Skype interview last month from his home in Smygehamn, the southernmost town in Sweden. “You want to do the good, but you do bad things,” he added, “and I think Segerstedt,” a theology student as a young man, “had a very hard struggle with his conscience.”
To play the complicated characters he had in mind when he wrote the script with the Danish novelist and poet Klaus Rifbjerg, Mr. Troell assembled an all-star Scandinavian cast. The Danish actor Jesper Christensen, perhaps best known as a villain in the James Bond capers “Casino Royale” and“Quantum of Solace,” was cast as Segerstedt, with Pernilla August of Sweden, who plays Shmi Skywalker in the “Star Wars” series, as his mistress and the Swedish comedian Ulla Skoog as Segerstedt’s long-suffering, Norwegian-born wife.
From the start of his career, Mr. Troell has had a reputation as an actor’s director. In the early 1970s, he made two movies about Swedish immigration to Minnesota with Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, “The Emigrants” and “The New Land,” that were nominated for various Oscars, including one for Ms. Ullmann as best actress. They paved the way for Mr. von Sydow’s breakout role in “The Exorcist.”
Working with Mr. Troell “is what made them household names in America and Sweden,” said Ursula Lindqvist, an expert on Scandinavian film who teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. “Before that, they were mostly known for art house films” by Ingmar Bergman, whom Mr. Troell described as a big-brother figure and “an inspiration to me.”
Mr. von Sydow has appeared in seven of Mr. Troell’s films, and was offered the lead in “The Last Sentence,” but declined, according to Mr. Troell, because, at 85, he felt “he was too old.” But Mr. Christensen has also recently been part of Mr. Troell’s de facto repertory company, having appeared in Mr. Troell’s previous film “Everlasting Moments” from 2009.
What makes actors so loyal to Mr. Troell? “From the beginning, Jan creates a tranquil atmosphere, a wonderful climate for creativity,” Ms. August explained. “He trusts your intuition, he lets the actor go, and that makes you feel intelligent and important. You never hear a hard word from him. He’s never screaming. He’s just so calm.”
Throughout a career that spans more than 50 years, Mr. Troell has shown a predilection for what today are somewhat dismissively called biopics. “The Last Sentence” is based on Kenne Fant’s biography of Segerstedt, and Mr. Troell’s credits include films about figures as celebrated as Knut Hamsun, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist from Norway arrested on charges of treason after World War II, or as obscure, at least in the United States, as the early Swedish aviator Elsa Andersson.
In nearly every case, Mr. Troell has adapted an existing literary work rather than create a story of his own out of whole cloth. “I like to stand on firm ground that I know has been a reality, and try to re-create it,” he said.
“I always feel a need myself to believe in ‘this happened’ or ‘this could have happened,’ ” he continued. “That is the basis of my approach. And I like to try to put myself in another person’s place and see another person’s point of view.”
Though “The Last Sentence” was shot digitally, a first for Mr. Troell, it is also of a piece with his earlier films in a technical sense. Like films as far back as“The Emigrants” and “The New Land,” “The Last Sentence” is full of interior scenes that have been shot close-in, with “the richness of depth and detail in every image” that, said Andrew Nestingen, a professor of Scandinavian and cinema studies at the University of Washington, characterizes Mr. Troell’s work.
“There are moments in which he seems to be giving his films over to actors in these really long takes, almost as if allowing them to play on the stage,” Mr. Nestingen continued. “But with the camera and lighting, he can paint layer upon layer of subtle detail that builds the story and awakens the interest of the viewer.”
That approach helps explain why Mr. Troell, very much a hands-on director who even now likes to serve as his own cinematographer (often working with Mischa Gavrjusjov), did not find Hollywood’s way of making films much to his liking. He directed two such movies in the 1970s, “Zandy’s Bride” and “Hurricane,” but even now seems shocked at the restrictions placed on him. “There were at least 10 times as many people around the camera than in Sweden, but I was not allowed to operate the camera myself, because of union rules,” he recalled. He later passed on a contract for 10 films. “I knew I couldn’t do the films I wanted to do, and so I went back to Sweden.”
Mr. Troell, who is about to turn 83, has vivid personal memories of the war years. “The Last Sentence” was shot in black and white, in part to evoke the newsreels he remembers seeing as a child, and as an 8-year-old he was even evacuated from his hometown, Malmo, after the Nazi seizure of Norway and Denmark, when it appeared that Sweden might also be invaded.
“The war really affected him and is always on his mind,” said Yohanna Troell, his daughter, who directed “A Close Scrutiny,” a making-of film about the Segerstedt production. “To have to leave his father behind, that was a big trauma that marked him for life, so I think it’s therapy for him to deal with this subject matter.”
But “The Last Sentence” is also timely, Ms. Lindqvist said, because it is part of an “accounting or reckoning with the past,” specifically the true nature of Nordic involvement in World War II, underway in recent years. “Troell is often called a film poet because his cinematography is so striking,” she said, “but at the same time, he gives us an artistic spin on deeply political material.”
At a screening of the film in Copenhagen last year, an audience member asked Mr. Troell if any modern public figure reminded him of Segerstedt, and the director replied yes, Edward Snowden. Asked about that, he mentioned scenes in “The Last Sentence” in which Segerstedt is warned by the Swedish prime minister and even King Gustav V that his actions damage the national interest, but he nevertheless insists on following his conscience.
“Segerstedt was the opposition that everyone in power needs if they are to be kept on their toes with their morals intact,” Ms. Troell said, with her father sitting at her side and nodding. “Disobedience requires courage, and though people like Segerstedt and Snowden are a threat and can go out of hand, it is important to have that kind of resistance.”