As the lead character of Everlasting Moments would say, “You see what you want to see.” She describes one’s view of the world, especially the highly personal interpretation of an artist, but she could just as well be describing Jan Troell’s latest feature, Sweden’s excluded entry for the 2009 Academy Awards. The 77-year-old Swedish filmmaker has delivered a film that can be taken as either a quietly affecting, top-drawer drama or a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV-movie dressed up in Euro-indie clothing.
The latter case proves more convincing. Troell’s sepia-tony nostalgia and feminist self-actualization have an inherent appeal not matched by an execution that tends to the dull and foregone. The predictable course begins in 1907, with suffering spouse Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen) chafing against the intermittent alcoholism, domestic violence and infidelity of her loutish husband Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt). Maria stumbles upon an outlet when she tries to unload a camera--a no-longer relevant symbol of her marital love--to local photographer Sebastian Pedersen (Jesper Christensen). Pedersen insists that she hold onto the camera and spots her for supplies; before you can say “Piff Paff Puff!” (Everlasting Moments' version of “Say cheese!”), Maria is escaping working-class doldrums by viewing them through her lens and framing them with her artist’s eye.
It’s a pleasing concept, but somehow Troell’s version of the true story comes across as remote and logy. Director and cinematographer, Troell can identify with the empowerment lent by a camera, and there’s a certain honesty in the restraint of Maria’s depiction by Troell and Heiskanen. Maria is a gifted artist but not, after all, a feminist firebrand. Sadly, photography is the only voice she can muster with any confidence or regularity, the one gun to which she’ll stick. Christensen’s aging but kindly photo-shop proprietor offers a romantic alternative to the seemingly irredeemable Sigfrid, but neither Sebastian nor Maria is, strictly speaking, available. Like the film in which she stars, Heiskanen has an up-down effect: she makes a credible turn-of-the-twentieth-century woman who is, in turn, a not especially magnetic presence.
Diversions that acknowledge the sweep of history (unionizing, The Great War) seem present only to inspire the cherished appellation of “epic,” and functionally distract from our core interest in Maria’s viewpoint. As it goes, we do get Maria’s discovery of truth and everyday beauty in stolen moments (a child stealing a look at the corpse of a friend) and neglected individuals (from a butterfly to a neighbor girl with Down’s Syndrome). Maria has a rare, if murky moment of self-awareness without a camera held up to her face when she tells Pedersen, “It’s as if the pictures take over. I forget I’m a mother. It turns me into another person.” Her mentor replies that those who have learned to see as artists “cannot merely close their eyes.” Larsson’s legacy lives on, but her still shots are more moving than Troell’s motion picture.
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]
Criterion brings Everlasting Moments to DVD and Blu-ray in a special edition that presents the film in its best light, beginning with a new hi-def 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, approved by Troell, that captures with clarity the nuances of Troell's old-school photography and bronze tinting. Criterion offers Swedish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio on the DVD, which gets the job done with clarity (helped, of course, by new and improved English subtitles).
Criterion's bang-up selection of special feaures includes, on disc one, the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:07).
Disc two is entirely devoted to extras, beginning with the 2007 short "Troell: Behind the Camera" (28:07). Filmed on the set of Everlasting Moments, the featurette includes extensive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with director Jan Troell, Peter Bavman, Maria Heiskanen, Mikael Persbrandt, editor Niels Pagh Andersen, and Maria Larsson's surviving family members.
In "The True Story of Maria Larsson" (9:17), Larsson's distant relative Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell narrates the story of Larsson over her photographs, followed by production stills from the film.
Also from 2007, "Troell's Magic Mirror" (1:00:49) takes an expansive look at Troell's career with footage of Troell at work and play, film clips, home movies, and a running interview with Troell. Also inteviewed are photographer Georg Oddner and Liv Ullmann.
Lastly, the handsome color booklet includes the film's credits and specs, as well as an essay by film critic Armond White.
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