Directed by Jan Troell. Starring Maria Heiskanen, Mikael Persbrandt, Jesper Christensen, Callin Öhrvall, Ghita Nørby, Amanda Ooms, Emil Jensen. (2008, NR, 131 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 17, 2009
Leisurely unfolding, much like a fat novel, this turn-of-the-century Swedish drama has a warm, enveloping feel. It’s flawlessly steeped in early 20th century atmosphere, costumes, and culture, but a gripping page-turner this family saga is not. Troell’s film manages to fascinate yet never convinces us of its necessity. A master filmmaker, now in his late 70s, Troell is best known in America for his Oscar-nominated Swedish films, The Emigrants and The New Land, and a brief stint in Hollywood (Zandy’s Bride with Gene Hackman and Liv Ullmann). The story of Maria Larsson (Heiskanen), the protagonist of Everlasting Moments, is based on the life of an actual woman who was a distant forebear of Troell’s wife, who has previously written about the woman. Maria’s story combines a tale of embryonic feminism and photographic delight, each force inchoate yet a spur to the other. Her personal saga is also placed within the context of the times, which were marked by social unrest, war, class stratification, and the inroads of modernity. A working-class mother to an eventual brood of seven, Maria is married to Sigfrid (Persbrandt), a strong and dependable manual laborer who would never be capable of working sufficient hours to raise his large family out of poverty. Though Siggie (as he’s known) clearly loves and respects his wife, their marriage suffers many a close call due to his prodigious philandering and alcohol consumption. When Maria attempts to sell a camera they won in a raffle, the curious shopkeeper and photographer Sebastian Pedersen (Christensen) instead teaches her how to use it and gifts her with the chemicals she’ll need to develop the pictures. From there, Everlasting Moments shows Maria’s steady growth into a woman of substance as she learns a skill, fine-tunes her gaze, and unpretentiously records life in the neighborhood around her. The real revelation of the film, however, is the performance of Heiskanen, whose face projects a blend of sturdiness and sensitivity that seems to simultaneously tell us everything and yet nothing about the character. So much of Maria’s growth is internal that we hang on her facial expressions and actions to learn what there is to know about the character. Everlasting Moments, indeed, provides a lasting portrait, but like the photographic form itself, the image is but one in a million.