Ox, The (1991): Sven Nykvist’s Oscar-Nominated Feature Directing Debut

Ingmar Bergman’s brilliant, longtime cinematographer Sven Nykvist made more than honorable feature directing debut with The Ox, a bleak epic base on a true story, which he also co-scriped.

In the small village of Småland in the late 1860s, Helge Roos (Stellan Skarsgård) works as a farmer on an estate belonging to Svenning Gustafsson (Lennart Hjulström) and his wife (Liv Ullmann).

Plagued by a terrible famine, Helge kills one of the Gustaffson’s last oxen. He and his wife Elfrida (Ewa Fröling) feel guilty about it, but the meat keeps them alive through the winter.

When he tries to sell the hide in the spring, a clergyman (Max Von Sydow) finds out and encourages him to confess. For his crime, the judge sentences Helge to a life of manual labor at state prison.

Pardoned and released after six years, he returns home to Elfrida to find out that she has been supporting the family through sexual services, which led to the birth of another child.

In the 1970s, Von Sydow and Ullmann appeared together in a set of films also dealing with the Swedish famine in Jan Troell’s two Oscar-nominated epics, The Emigrants and The New Land.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Foreign Language Oscar


Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar was the Italian entry, Mediterraneo



A Jean Doumanian production

Running time: 93 Minutes

Directed by Sven Nykvist

Released: November 22, 1991