THE OX
DIRECTOR: SVEN NYKVIST
SWEDEN 1991
CINEMATOGRAPHY: SVEN NYKVIST
MUSIC: Classical music is used.
CAST: MAX VON SYDOW, STELLAN SKARSGARD, EWA FROLING, Liv Ullman, Erland Josephson.
ONE WORD: Wonderful story.


" Those who hate always believe they are right "

This is not a film about hate... it is a film about faith, and what one has to do to maintain it sometimes, in spite of the harshest of situations. And what a beaut it really is, from the photography to the care of detail in camera use for each actor...... something only a cinematographer could really do properly.

Sven Nykvist has made his mark (and has an Oscar or two to show for it) showing people how beautiful a film can be.... were it the images and acting interplay in the Ingmar Bergman's films, or the simple visuals in the delightful Sleepless in Seattle. And it is no surprise to see that as a director, he not only maintains his excellent feel for the material he works with, but also adds something else to the work.

And THE OX is a very special piece of work, by no means the best Swedish film ever made, but a very intuitive, and at the same time inquisitive film. A couple, during a terrible pair of bad years with droughts and long winters, has a child. And the father, worried about the life of the youngster who is not well, one night kills an ox, that belongs to his employer. The family manages to survive a bit longer, and get better, but eventually the rest of the meat goes bad ( not enough salt to cure it ) and they have to resort to the last thing they have... the hides. Helge begins his journey to town to sell the skins, in the hopes of acquiring more food for his ailing family. And on the way, he comes across the village priest who is also on the way there. And when questioned about what he is doing on the way to town, Helge shows the priest that he has indeed killed the disappeared ox. The priest takes him to town, and to the local court, where he is tried for his 'crime'. And he is sentenced to life in prison doing hard labor.

And during the difficult years he is in prison (eight), the lonely wife has to accept a bribe or two, just to be able to come up with some food for the little girl. And the one person she accepts the bribe from is employed, and apparently brings her food. And it also leaves her with a little boy. After many efforts by the priest, who slowly gets the whole village to his side, and eventually gets the farm owner to relent, Helge is finally released, after suffering many indignities at the hands of people who are selfish and careless. Upon returning home, he is happy, but when he sees the young boy, he gets upset and gets ready to leave. The strongest moment in the film, and probably one of the most endearing, is the husband finally forgiving his wife and returning to her.... she has loved him, but has had to feed the child. She did all she could, and eventually had to succumb to a bribe here or there. He finally understands her predicament and returns.

This excellent film, with really well thought out camera actions, knows when to get our attention. It gives the repenting father a caring and complete chance to show us that he is indeed sorry for the deed he has done. It gives the priest a lot of sad space, empty space around him, while he is fighting the injustices around him. And it uses fast movements when it shows the un-relenting farmer, who has kept Helge in jail for so long. And it provides a caring space, small, for the wife, whose ability to stay strong is severely tested many times.

Max Von Sydow (has he done anything bad at all???) is superb, and truly exciting as the priest whose views are appreciated, but also not heard by the few who really count, those in charge. Ewa Froling stands out as the helpless wife doing the very best she can to keep the child alive and well. Stellan Skarsgard, is very good as Helge, the husband. And Liv Ullman has several appearances as the matriarch who tries to help the young wife, but can't.

All around great kudos for another excellent member to the directing club (if there is such a thing), for Sven Nykvist may yet surpass the one man who has made the Swedish film industry come alive... Ingmar Bergman. And it is very clear, why it is that many of Ingmar's films are so good... from the camera work, and setting ups which were used. One can only hope that Sven Nykvist develops his desire to direct a little more, because THE OX, is an excellent film, not only in story, but in many other smaller ways, that are not readily
visible, but help this film stand out.

4 1/2 GIBLOONS

 

   

      

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