Jan Troellís first feature film Here is Your Life gets a Criterion Blu-ray edition, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of about 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The new high-definition 1080p/24hz presentation is taken from a new 2K scan and restoration of the original 35mm negative.
My expectations for the presentation were modest: the disc is packed with a film that runs just shy of 3-hours and then also includes a modest sized collection of extras, all of which eats up space of course, so my expectation was really just an acceptable but unspectacular look. I was stunned by what Criterion has managed to pull off here, exceeding my expectations by far, and the transfer really looks spectacular. Though the bitrate can drop considerably during some darker scenes (which may be what leads to some off black levels during these scenes, where shadow delineation is limited) the bitrate holds high in the mid-30s throughout most of the film. Though bitrate isnít the final judgment in how good an image is it still certainly helps, and the presentation here has probably been boosted by it. Contrast looks splendid with smooth transitions between the various shades of gray, and the whites look pure without any sign of blooming. Detail is very sharp (when the source or photography allow), with great textures, most notable on some of the winter garments worn by the various characters, and an excellent sense of depth.
Though primarily a black and white film there are actually splashes of colour. Early on and close to the end we get a scene tinted yellow with a blue bird superimposed into the image, and the colour here is rich and bold. Thereís also a 16mm colour sequence a bit later. The colours here are fairly muted and pale, though this was an intended look created by the film used (at least this is what Troell explains in his interview). This portion of the film is also very grainy (another side effect of the film stock used) but it looks natural and cleanly rendered as it dances around. The rest of the film has a very fine grain structure but itís still clearly visible and looks natural as well. The image only seems to falter during some of the darker scenes in the film, where black levels lean more on a dark gray rather than a pure black.
Mixed with a rather spectacular restoration job (there are a few marks and minor stains remaining) itís a hell of a presentation, far better than I was expecting. 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion packs on a decent number of supplements starting with a 5-minute introduction by filmmaker Mike Leigh, who talks about his admiration for the coming-of-age film, quickly talking about its assortment of characters and Troellís editing style. This is then followed by a lengthy 34-minute conversation between Jan Troell and Peter Cowie, where the two talk about the Swedish film industry at the time, Troellís short film prior to this (also included on this disc) and then Here is Your Life. Troell adds details about the novels on which the film is based and talks about adapting them, covers the casting process (which included getting pros like Gunnar Bjornstrand and Max von Sydow), and the filmís music, which is the sameópretty muchóas what was on the previous short film, Interlude in the Marshland. Cowie comments on a number of shots and moments and Troell gives some backstory, explaining that many of the filmís stand-out moments, like a moment with a moth in the brick factory or the scene where the loggers try to retrieve a boat, were basically made up on the spot or were captured as they were happening. He also talks about the editing process, and despite a rough cut that didnít go over well with a lot of people, the final product ended up being a big hit in Sweden, and is still highly regarded there. Itís a decently in-depth interview, not overly so, but it is filled with a few surprising stories, funny anecdotes, and insight into the Swedish film industry.
Criterion then follows this up with two separate interviews: one with actor Eddie Axberg and then another with producer Bengt Forslund, running about 16-minutes and 15-minutes respectively. In their own interviews they talk about working on the film and with Troell for their particular parts in making the film, Axberg of course talking about his casting and Forslund talking about the work on adapting the source novels. Forslund also talks a bit more about Troell outside of this film and also talks about the industry at the time. Axberg also talks about the process he went through to make himself look even younger for the earlier portions of the film, and the wonderful experience he had working with von Sydow and Bjornstrand. Axberg also talks about dealing with the brief period after the film where he was now famous. Both nicely add on to or expand what Troell and Cowie covered in their interview.
Surprisingly Criterion then includes Troellís segment from the omnibus film 4X4. Entitled Interlude in the Marshland and made before Here is Your Life, itís also based on a story by Eyvind Johnson (the author of the source novels the main feature is based on) and like the main feature it has an autobiographical feel. It features Max von Sydow as a train brakeman who, at one of the station stops, just decides heís going to quit and move to that location (despite being warned that he will probably get reported, I assume because itís a government job). He doesnít care and simply makes his way through the area, possibly to get a job a local quarry, yet his nonchalant attitude to that suggestion, as well as other actions, indicate this probably isnít his goal, specifically with his one line about the nice weather requiring that someone should enjoy it.
Featuring an excellent performance by von Sydow, it has a very similar feel to Here is Your Life, right down to the music which, if it isnít exactly the same, has a very similar sound. Itís somewhat episodic editingóif not as heavy as in the main featureóalso shows Troell developing his style.
The presentation to this film is a tiny bit disappointing. The restoration hasnít been as thorough as what we find on the main feature, though damage isnít too bad: there are still some tram lines, marks, and stains, but theyíre not heavy, just noticeable in the corner of the frames. Where the presentation disappoints is in the transfer: whereas the main feature enjoys a healthy bitrate throughout most of its running time, this one gets the shaft, receiving a fairly mediocre one hanging out in the low-to-mid-teens, which may play into its issues. The transfer is delivered in high-definition at 1080p/24hz, but the image looks fairly compressed and detail is a fairly muddy. Halos are noticeable in places and black levels can be a bit crushed. It almost looks like an upscale but I donít believe this to be the case. Itís more than likely itís an issue with the master and the only one Criterion could get their hands on. This is a bit disappointing but Iím still happy with its inclusion here.
Criterion then includes a road-map insert, featuring an essay by Mark Le Fanu. This essay offers the only scholarly slant to the release (other than Cowieís minor interjections during his walk with Troell) as Le Fanu writes a bit about author Eyvind Johnson, covers the filmís success, then goes over Troellís editing and style (paying particular attention to his 16mm colours sequence), the filmís continuity, and the characters that appear. Though Iím still annoyed by the road map style to the insert (itís just awkward to hold while reading) itís a strong essay.
Iím sure more could have been added, like more about the novel(s) and maybe the author, Eyvind Johnson, but otherwise I felt fairly satisfied with what we got and was more than happy to go through everything. 7/10