Troell's 'Everlasting Moments' an Endearing Snapshot

Directed by: Jan Troell, Runtime: 130 minutes
Grade: B+

We have reached a point in our society where photographs are, essentially, disposable at a whim. At any given time, it's possible to store thousands upon thousands of photographs on a data card, with the option to try and try again if a shot doesn't look right and, in most cases, simply delete the ones with accidents or off-the-mark faces. It's not the way it used to be with standard film cameras, where snapping an elegant shot, after being developed in either a personal dark room or at a development location, was -- excuse me, is -- like capturing lightning in a bottle. Everlasting Moments (Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick), a Swedish film from Oscar-nominated director Jan Troell (The Emigrants), beautifully illustrates the emotionality behind ensnaring one of these flashes in time, while it also pairs the importance of memories against the immediate needs of a family in both monetary and structural disorder.

Troell's film follows this biographical account of the Larsson family, especially of Maria Larsson, as told by the eldest daughter, Maja, over a ten-some-odd year span. Taking place in the early 1900s, the story begins with the revelation that Maria and her husband, Sigfrid, married shortly after a dispute over who would keep a camera that they won in a raffle. Springboarding from there, Maja's narration gives us a description of the pair, making sure to paint an equally sympathetic and brash image of the father as a hard-working, loving, yet alcoholic and abusive man who could woo women with his affable charm. It's the effects of his alcoholism that create the central conflicts within Everlasting Moments, leading to Maria getting hurt in an altercation and attempting to leave her husband. After consult from her father, a man on his death bed reciting staunch Protestant reasoning, she remains with Sigfrid out of obligation.

Though containing striking cinematography that catches Sigfrid at-work at the docks and Maria conducting everyday affairs, the prospect of watching this domestic battle within the Larsson's for over two hours seems like an exhausting affair. Instead, Everlasting Moments introduces the foundation to the story's restrained dexterity at this point, once we've gathered our senses about the characters. Strapped for food and rent money as her husband wavers between a dock worker's strike and his alcoholism, Maria ponders the idea of pawning the camera that brought them together in the first place, both a showcase of the family's desperation and a symbolic image of Maria's desire to "cash in" and start anew. What she finds, when she arrives at the photography studio with her unused Contessa prize, is a gentle, honest man with spectacles (Jesper Christensen) that wishes for Maria to use the camera before she sells it. He freely offers her the supplies -- plates, red lamp, etc -- for her excursion into fleeting artistry.

Is it revealed that she's some kind of photographic wunderkind that's been hidden under domestic sediment? To an unassuming degree, yes, but mostly it's a revelation that Maria has an eye for beauty in the everyday -- and a fiery passion for something aside from her family. Much of Everlasting Moments deftly focuses on her struggle to keep that passion alive amid her domestic hardships, grasping onto her newly-discovered talent as a source of independence and strength. Yet Jan Troell's film doesn't become heavy-handed with its sentiments of intrinsic power maturity, opting to evenly balance the true-to-life story of Maria in a way that preserves the woman's gray areas. She mentally struggles with unwanted pregnancy, the growth of her daughter Maja into a working woman, and whether Sigfrid has been wandering around with other women, yet the skill in director Troell's eyes strays far from any form of operatic extravagance by keeping a down-to-earth, dramatically adept center.

Troell also tells Maria's story with a wide array of breathtaking visual imagery, shot with nimble, earthy skill by Troell herself and her right-hand photographer, Mischa Gavrjusjov. So many of the images speak to both the time period and to cinematography's tremendous artistry: the dark recesses of a coal-shoveling vault where Sigfrid's working unswervingly, Maria and her children walking through the snow in front of an impatient streetcar, and the pedestrian walks through Sweden's early-1900s architecture. They're captivating on a pure level; this helps, since the images mostly exist within Everlasting Moments as resonant depictions of the period without much elaboration. As impressive as these shots can be, it's the stillness ensnared within the Larsson's family homes, changing with the times, which encapsulate the film's core visual motif, showing their close-quartered living conditions as Sigfrid stumbles home drunk to interact with the family.

At the center of Everlasting Moments lies the disquieting performance from Maria Heiskanen as Maria, who, while restrained to keep face about her state, speaks volumes through incensed, desperate eyes. She conjures an impeccable demeanor that elicits shades of gray about Maria's belief structure, her loyalty to her abusive bread-winning husband, and the weight of the family's pressure once the children overflow the family, tallying up to seven before the story's close. Yet, it's in the moments when she unsnaps her trusty Contessa that Heiskanen's performance stuns, causing her face to glow with such an understated light that it's almost melancholy. An equally dim light can also be seen radiating in the coy relationship between Maria and the photo studio shopkeeper, a work of striking controlled beauty in itself. While the supporting cast ensnares corresponding potency, especially Mikael Persbrandt as the brutish Sigfrid and a stunning Callin Öhrvall as the teenage iteration of Maja, this is Heiskanen's show -- and she skillfully, and subtly, commands our attention.

Which she certainly has to do, because Everlasting Moments, through its beauty of cinematography and nuance of human interaction, stays with the audience for well over two hours -- and it's not a spry affair, either. We're carried over a decade through the Larsson family life, including dockside strikes, World War I's lingering presence, and varied stints of both Maria and Sigfrid's employment, all while Maria fights to hold onto her photography through nonchalant freelance affairs. It's a portrait of development for the entire family unit, one that sees plenty of growing pains amid several situation shifts, and the way in which Jan Troell guides us through their story relies heavily on a deliberate pace that's exhaustive amid its manner-enhancing tempo. But it's beautiful, watching the pieces maladroitly fit into place within Maria's life, as it comes to an earnest close much in the way her life truly gained steam once she discovered her love for photography: by the capturing of a moment on a plate, an immortal flash.


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