Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Everlasting Moments

Everlasting Moments (2008)
Biography, Drama, 131 minutes, Swedish (and some Finnish) Language
Directed by Jan Troell
Starring Maria Heiskanen, Mikael Persbrandt and Jesper Christensen

I'm losing count of the number of foreign films I've discovered that I would like to show to friends. Unfortunately, the vast majority would not subject themselves to a subtitled film, so this review will have to be my outlet. Maybe it will persuade one person, somewhere, to watch this wonderful film?

I first saw Everlasting Moments on cable about two years ago. Although I admired it, I felt that it dragged a little at times and I awarded it 3.5/5. I don't know whether my tastes have matured significantly since that time, but I was captivated by last night's viewing on Criterion Blu-ray.

The story tells the true story of Maria Larsson (Heiskanen), who is distantly related to members of director Jan Troell's family. It opens in the first decade of the 1900s and ends in the early 1920s. The story is narrated by Maria's daughter, Maja, and the story is based on her real memoirs.

What can you expect from Everlasting Moments?

The story shows life in Sweden approximately 100 years ago. It's a brutally honest portrayal of poverty and hardship, and how Maria found an escape from that gritty existence through her photography. We are told at the outset that Maria won a camera in a lottery. The ticket was purchased by Sigfrid Larsson (Persbrandt), and he thought the camera should be his because he bought Maria the ticket. She told him that he would have to marry her if he wanted to share it, so he did.

Sigfrid is a complicated character. We discover that he is an alcoholic, and that he also has a weakness when it comes to other women. He appears to love Maria, but he's a violent man when under the influence of drink, causing all manner of problems for Maria and their children.

Maria's life changes when she discovers the camera in a closet one day and decides to pawn it for food. She takes it to a local photography store and encounters the owner, Sebastian Pedersen (Christensen). Maria has no idea of the camera's value, but Pedersen tells her that it is a good one. In fact, he's not completely sure of its value either. He tells her that he will buy it, but that she should keep it and use it until he establishes its value. The cost of the chemicals and photographic plates will be deducted from the price when he eventually buys it. Maria begins to use the camera and discovers that she likes it. Pederson admires her work and thinks she has real skill.

Have you ever uncovered a talent of your own that you never knew you had? That is part of the magic of Everlasting Moments. We live in a world where people are very guarded and often reluctant to show anyone a glimpse of their true feelings. Most reactions we see in others in a social setting are fake to some degree. They feign interest in what you are saying and force themselves to laugh or smile. It's rare to see genuine delight, and when I see it, I remember it. It's more common to see honest reactions from children because they don't care so much about how others perceive them.

I mention all this to illustrate the power of Maria's reaction when she realizes that she has a talent for photography. It is pure magic to her and Maria Heiskanen captures that feeling and depicts it perfectly. It's so effective that I felt everything that Maria might feel and I began to connect deeply with her character and her situation.

Although Maria doesn't boast about her talent or think that it's special, she begins to draw the attention of her friends and acquaintances. Photography was not common 100 years ago, so Maria finds that some people are willing to pay for her work and commission her to do more.

Like all of my favorite dramas, Everlasting Moments takes the time to establish its characters. Maria ultimately has seven children and we learn about what is important to the older ones. Sigfrid does his best to be a good father and husband, but it's not really enough for Maria. However, she takes marriage seriously and we see that she isn't the kind of woman to cheat, even when she observes Sigfrid openly flirting with other women.

Maria develops a deep friendship with Sebastian, which develops as she visits his store more regularly. This relationship is arguably the very heart of the film. Will Maria be tempted to abandon her husband or break her marriage vows?

It's also interesting that Sigfrid is jealous of Maria's relationship with Sebastian, even though he only ever suspects that something might be going on. He conveniently overlooks the fact that he is involved with other women himself and sees it as completely insignificant. He holds Maria to a higher standard of behavior.

I won't reveal the whole story or the ending, but some of the subject matter may disturb a few viewers, even though there is no nudity or bad language. It's a realistic portrayal of Maria's life, and that inevitably leads to a few scenes that are hard to watch.

If you enjoy character studies and seeing how people might have lived a century ago, Everlasting Moments might be for you. The Blu-ray presentation is excellent and exactly what you would expect from Criterion. The special features include a look at Jan Troell's career in film (61 minutes), and two documentaries on the film and Maria Larsson's story (29 minutes and 10 minutes). There's also a 20-page book which includes an essay about the film.

Overall score 4.5/5

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