The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard
section at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival and in competition at the 15th
Moscow International Film Festival. At the 22nd Guldbagge Awards, Stina
Ekblad won the award for Best Actress.
Bo Widerberg's emotionally powerful depiction of depressed conditions and sexual
exploitation in 19th-century Sweden is a beautiful, evocative film of human resilience and
nobility. Ekblad must regularly give herself to her landlord, Skarsgård, in order to pay
the rent. He fathers several of her children but does not relieve her poverty, nor does
she allow him to participate emotionally in the family. Ekblad endures her circumstances
stoically, never questioning her suffering. It is God's will, and she has little choice.
Finding love with a romantic dreamer, Ekblad has a few moments of respite. The rent is
paid and the family happy. But her lover is arrested for thievery, and Ekblad shoulders
her burden once again, giving Skarsgård her body but not her soul. Disaster after disaster
strikes the family, but Ekblad finds comfort in her Bible and faith in God. When her son
finally strikes back against the landlord, the very earth seems to rebel against this
human action. A small earthquake tears the house from its foundations, and the landlord
and the family meet a common death.
This is a film of man's ultimate helplessness in
God's universe and the strength necessary to endure it. Ekblad and
Skarsgård give restrained yet powerful performances.
Skarsgård manages to show the vulnerability and pain in this devil of a man. Visual
metaphors are beautifully rich, and the cinematography is powerfully evocative. In an
interview after completing the film, Widerberg stated his purpose was to "provide an
arena for the training and nurturing of the heart." This he has done and done well.
The picture was released in Sweden in 1986 and shown on the US festival circuit in 1987.