DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
The 77-year-old Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell is best known in the US for his pair of 1970s epics "The Emigrants" and "The New Land." His latest film is "Maria Larsson's Everlasting Moments," a title shortened in this country to "Everlasting Moments." It will open in select cities over the next month and can also be seen on pay-per-view cable. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: It's easy to see why Ingmar Bergman and not his countryman Jan Troell gets all the love when academics talk about late twentieth century world cinema. Bergman, a student of nineteenth century philosophy and theater, loads his dramas with metaphysical baggage, whereas Troell's characters appear to be unencumbered by anything except daily life. But every frame of Troell's entrancingly beautiful new movie "Everlasting Moments" uses surfaces — light, texture, faces — to hint at another world, a shadow realm and if that sounds fancy, the film itself is deceptively simple, delicate, evenly paced, straight ahead.
The metaphor is right there in the story, which centers on a turn of the century woman who finds an old camera in a cabinet and discovers that she has, what another character calls, a gift for seeing. She's Maria and she's played by Maria Heiskanen, an actress who can seem plain and mousy in one instant and radiantly inquisitive the next. A Finnish immigrant to Sweden, Maria marries her husband Sig, played by Mikael Persbrandt, in 1907, and has a boatload of kids. And the film charts their marriage in a leisurely, episodic way, through births and deaths and tumultuous strikes and a world war.
The narrator is Maria's eldest daughter, Maja, who watches from the sidelines as her father comes home roaring drunk and abusive, then swears off drink and joins the temperance society, then falls off the wagon and takes up with a barmaid. Sig is not a bad man but a weak one, a creature of appetite who never thinks twice about exploiting his male authority. And Maria is trapped in his world - burdened with her children's care, unable to earn a living on her own. That's when she comes on that camera, which she'd won in a lottery before she was married. And in the course of trying to hock it, she meets a camera shop owner named Pedersen, who is obviously smitten. He pushes her to use the thing.
Nowadays we hold up our phones and snap a shot and send it across the world. But "Everlasting Moments" unfolds in an age in which the art and science of photography is still in its infancy and carries — especially for someone like Maria — a whiff of magic. Pedersen demonstrates how the camera works. He catches on the photographic plate the shadow of a fluttering bird. And there's that other realm in which something fleeting and specific becomes lasting and universal. Maria begins to develop a dual self. As a photographer, she can forget for an instant she's tied to the role of wife and mother. Yet her powers as an artist are tied to the generosity of her spirit.
When a young girl drowns, she asks the mother if she can photograph the body and the image she produces seems to hold the child's very soul. I'm afraid that makes "Everlasting Moments" sound fuzzy and sentimental. But it's the simplicity and directness of the dead child's photo that gives the image weight. The whole movie is like that. There isn't a shot that looks like something you've seen before. Troell treats every frame as if the medium of filmmaking was new and precious.
Period films with lots of sepia tones are usually soft in the head, but the nostalgic glow of "Everlasting Moments" somehow underscores the clarity of its vision. Images of the young Maja on the cobbled street as she waits for her father, of her disheartened friend Ingeborg striding out into the middle of a frozen lake and disappearing into the fog, of small children gathered in a window frame trying to glimpse a dead body - they suggest at once the ephemeral and the indelible. In Troell's miraculous vision, that's not a contradiction.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
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