The Ox | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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This is the first feature by the great Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist, cowritten with Lasse Summanen, and it's a worthy and assured debut. Based on an actual event during a severe drought in Sweden in the 1860s, the story calls to mind Victor Hugo's Les miserables, which was published in the same decade: a desperate farmhand (Stellan Skarsgard), afraid that his wife (Ewa Froling) and baby daughter will starve, steals and slaughters an ox belonging to the farmer he works for (Lennart Hjulstrom); after he eventually confesses his crime to the local pastor (Max von Sydow), he's sentenced to a harsh flogging and life imprisonment. Not surprisingly, what's most impressive here is the way this film looks--especially the unforced and lovely handling of landscape and period--and the purity of the performances, including those of Ingmar Bergman veterans Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, who appear in smaller parts (1991). (Music Box, Friday through Tuesday, January 22 through 26)

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