A subtitle introduces this harrowing, but finally uplifting film as 'a true story as told by Sven Nykvist'. This is rural southern Sweden, in the middle of the catastrophic crop failures and famine of the late 1860s. Skarsgard, his wife Fröling, and their young child face certain starvation; ox meat is the only desperate solution. Without the beast, the man's employer's smallholding cannot function, and the penalty for its slaughter is as harsh as that for murder. Disconcertingly straightforward, veteran cinematographer Nykvist's film is an essentialist delineation of a society under severe strain, held together only by the strictest religious and social codes. By focusing on the couple's story, themes of crime and punishment, suffering and redemption, suspicion and fidelity, are made manifest. The acting (not least von Sydow's pastor) matches the overall mood, restrained and expressive; and shot with varying colour tones to reflect inner states of mind, the film unfolds like the four seasons, ending with a spring-like scene of reconciliation.