By Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell’s Everlasting Moments is well-crafted, traditional storytelling with scant ambiguity or artistic license. Surrender to its conservative technique, though, and you’ll be moved as well as entertained.
The film opens in 1907 as Maria (Maria Heiskanen) and Sigge Larsson (Mikael Persbrandt) spin through their wedding dance. She has recently won a Contessa glass-plate camera in a raffle; they joke that he married her to get his hands on the treasure. It is packed away forgotten while they begin their family, he toiling as a dockworker, she scrubbing floors and sewing clothes for the local gentry. Sigge is a good father and loving husband on the rare occasions when he is sober, a diligent worker and reliable provider. Maria chafes at Sigge’s brawling, cheating lapses, but perseveres.
As social and political revolution churns in the background, the story becomes a struggle between 19th century values and 20th century freedoms. Maria yearns for some means of self-expression but feels her first responsibility is to her ever-expanding brood. When she brings the Contessa to the local portrait studio in hopes of selling it, kindly Mr. Pedersen (Jesper Christensen) notices her artistic eye and hands the camera back to her. ”Not everyone is endowed with the gift of seeing,” he murmurs. The pair feel an unacknowledged sympathy for each other, but the stern Protestant morality of the era forbade such things to be acted on.
Maria begins using the camera to take portraits of her children, then the neighbors’ kids, then parades and Scandinavia’s three kings at a summit meeting. Pedersen encourages her work and helps her publish it. Meanwhile, Sigge is swept up into the laborers’ socialist movement, unjustly jailed, and is called up into the infantry during World War I.
The film flirts with melodramatic cliche. The characters around the protagonists are predictable, one-dimensional types.
Filmed in a palette of subdued color, Everlasting Moments honors the past without cloying nostalgia. The old ways kept women married to men who were brutes, it admits. But even when it’s a struggle, this film says, life is worth celebrating. All it takes is the gift of seeing its beauty.
Cast: Maria Heiskanen, Mikael Persbrandt.
Director: Jan Troell.
Screenwriters: Niklas Radstrom, Jan Troell, Agneta Ulfsater-Troell.
Producers: Tero Kaukomaa, Christer Nilsen, Thomas Stenderup.
Running time: 131 minutes. In Swedish with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade only: Cosford.