Oscar Directors: Troell, Jan–Background, Career, Awards

Updated June 9, 2020

Jan Gustaf Troell (born 23 July 1931), the Swedish film director, usually writes his scripts and serves as his own director of photography.

His realistic films, defined by lyrical photography, have placed him in the first rank of Swedish film directors like Ingmar Bergman and Bo Widerberg.

Troell was born in Limhamn outside Malmö, Sweden. For several years, he worked as an elementary-school teacher but started to make short films in the sixties.

In 1965 he co-produced the film “4×4,” which played at the 4th Moscow Film Festival.

He became director of photography for Widerberg but soon made a debut with his own first feature, Here’s Your Life (1966), about a working class boy in Sweden, set in the beginning of the century. The film, based on  autobiographical novel by Eyvind Johnson, won Best Director at the 4th Guldbagge Awards.

His next film “Who Saw Him Die?” (1968) won the Golden Bear award at the 18th Berlin Film Fest.

Troell’s major works in the 1970s, The Emigrants (Utvandrarna, 1971) and its sequel The New Land (Nybyggarna, 1972), were epic films about peasants emigrating from the barren Swedish countryside to America in the 19th century.  The films were based on the novels of a Swedish working-class author, Vilhelm Moberg’s famous Emigrants suite.

As in many of Troell’s films, Max von Sydow plays a major role. The Emigrants was nominated for several Oscar Awards.

After a brief, unsuccessful sojourn in Hollywood, where he made Zandy’s Bride (1974), starring Gene Hackman, and Hurricane (1979), Troell made Flight of the Eagle (Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd, 1982), a film about S. A. Andrée’s disastrous Arctic balloon expedition of 1897. “The Flight” of the Eagle was nominated for the Best Foreign-Language Film.

The release of Il Capitano: A Swedish Requiem (Il Capitano, 1991) became controversial since the film is based upon a true story; the brutal murder of a Swedish family just a few years earlier (see Juha Valjakkala). Yet, it concentrates on the psychological power game between the murderer and his girlfriend rather than the violence of the crime. He was awarded with the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 42nd Berlin International Film Festival.[5] It also won the award for Best Film at the 27th Guldbagge Awards.

Troell has also made documentaries, for instance Land of Dreams (Sagolandet, 1988), dealing with modern society’s alienation from nature and A Frozen Dream (En frusen dröm, 1997) in which he once again brings up Andrée’s polar expedition.

Despite his age, Troell has remained productive. His recent films include As White as in Snow (Så vit som en snö, 2001), based on the life of Swedish aviator Elsa Andersson; a documentary called Presence (Närvarande, 2003); Everlasting Moments (Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick, 2008), based on the life of Maria Larsson, a 20th-century, working class photographer; and his latest film, The Last Sentence (Dom över död man).,[7] a biographical film about the Swedish publicist Torgny Segerstedt.

The Last Sentence premiered in November 2012 at the Stockholm Film Festival, where Troell was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award.