Photographs Are Forever
Much of 77-year-old Jan Troell’s four decades’ output has been interpretation of Swedish literature and legend. However, Everlasting Moments/Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick falls in with 1971-72 The Emigrants and The New Land, for it follows family lives with a concentration on the stolid, solid matriarch, depicted quietly in short scenes and period-like photography as through a veil of time.
The story celebrates an early era of still photography as distinct from “commercial motion pictures’ stress on the present and future, not preservation of the past”-- and the film emerges as a near painterly look at wifely love that not so much survives as endures, even if daughter-narrator (voice of Birte Heribertson) Maja (Nellia Almgren as a child, with Callin Öhrvall as the teen and young woman) finds it “a mystery why she stayed with Father.”
The seed was planted over twenty years ago when Troell’s wife Agneta Ulfsäter met her great-aunt, the real-life Maja, and over eight years interviewed the woman with an eye towards a book. The octogenarian’s reminiscences centered on her mother Maria but also serve for filmic re-creation of working-class background in the Scandinavia of 1907 until after the Great War.
In a poor Malmö workers’ suburb, Finnish-born Maria (Maria Heiskanen) has so many children she no longer cleans house for wigmaker Mrs. Fagerdal (Ghita Nørby) but brings in extra pennies as a home seamstress. She had met, and soon married, dockworker Sigfrid Larsson (Mikael Persbrandt) when in a lottery she won a Contessa camera that lies forgotten in a trunk.
Mother happens on her past prize and, thinking to sell it, enters the photo studio of J.E. Sebastian Pedersen (Jesper Christensen). Nicknamed “Piff Paff Puff” for his phrase preparatory to releasing the shutter, the refined shopowner urges her instead to experiment with the equipment and the plates and chemicals he furnishes for later discounting from any purchase price.
The film artfully does not overdo shots of Maria’s results, which so impress the studio professional that he urges her to continue. Only at the end does Maja display Mother’s sole, mirror self-portrait. Her subjects are the family and its cat, neighbors and nature, three Nordic kings on a World War balcony, Anna’s mongoloid daughter Elsa and, upon request, the laid-out corpse of Maja’s drowned schoolmate Ingeborg.
The developing process itself proves a marvel for the shy but strong woman while, treated with subtlety, her relationship with Pedersen deepens into a mutual admiration which takes forever to reach a first-name basis and promises, but realistically does not deliver, any trite consummation. Divorced, his wife remarried, and their daughter’s pregnancy finally calling his heart to relocate, this also foreign-born (Denmark), cultured gentleman plays the violin both for mournful hound companion Leo and, joyfully, at the cinematheque where Maria and her brood delightedly discover on the screen his hand-cranked moving picture news which includes her snapping her stills.
Reflecting northern climes’ famous lack of exterior emotionalism, Everlasting Moments remains understated. This includes surrounding war, politics, social and labor unrest, British blacklegs and bombings, as well as individual crises like a clumsy attempt at rape and a failed self-induced abortion, suicide and accidental death, childhood polio, a straight razor at Maria’s throat, jailing, parental disciplinary strappings, even Maja’s first love and hurried kiss.
Overshadowing the contrast of Pedersen and the backdrop of social change, Father looms as large as Mother. Taking the pledge for temperance meetings, Sigfrid goes back to drink. Charming and loveable, he picks up barmaid Matilda (Amanda Ooms) and, not the Lothario he is made out to be, is faithful to her in adultery for years. Macho violent with the family when in his cups, hurtfully contemptuous of the children’s educational career aspirations, quick to resent slights to himself, fellow workers and horseflesh, he picks up without understanding the day’s Socialist slogans; yet he is compelling and, despite Matilda’s perfume, Maria loves him through it all and is saddened “because I didn’t miss him” when he was in jail.
This even-keel love story so deliberately unfolds that it seems fuller and longer, but not tiresomely so, than its 131 minutes. “These moments are everlasting” in Maja’s memory and in the film's stylized single-light-source frames. The scarcity of outward violence only serves to emphasize the emotions that run beneath still waters.
(Released by IFC Films; not rated by MPAA.)