Everlasting Moments (2008), Dir. Jan Troell

Maria (Maria Heiskanen) finds a new purpose in life in taking pictures

Rating: 10/10

I watched this Swedish film, courtesy of Love Film, in a bid to watch more Scandinavian films and  was very glad I did. The  film-based on a true story ans set in the early 1900s-looks at the life of working-class housewife Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen) and her family, which consists of her violent and heavy drinking dock worker husband Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt), her loyal daughter Maja (Callin Ohrvall, Nellie Almgren) who also narrates the film and her three sons, Erik (who dies tragically  early from polio), Elon and Seven and two daughters Stina and Anna. When Maria wins a camera in a lottery and is persuaded by the genial local camera shop owner Sebastien Pedersen (Jesper  Christensen) to keep it, despite the protests of her husband who wants to sell it, Maria’s life is transformed by her natural talent as a photographer.

The film is then also a tribute to the early pioneering days of photography when people were first starting to realise that money could be made from good photographs and that photographs provided an important lasting record of the times. Appropriately enough the film is beautifully shot by Troell and co-cinematographer Mischa Gavrjusjov  who frame people in slow languid takes and capture the period in precise detail, taking in the extremities of rural green landscapes, bare fading cottages and bustling sawdust strewn and smoke-filled docks  and busy streets.

The story takes place in the social upheavals that were taking place at the time such as the advent of the First World War- the film showing the historic meeting between the Scandinavian kings to ensure peace which Maria captures on her camera and sells to a newspaper. As well the strikes that were occurring on the docks due to low pay and subsequent protests and terrorist attacks from importing English workers to take their place. When a bomb goes off it is Sigfrid who is implicated but as Maria discovers much to her horror he has an alibi in the form of a barmaid he slept with at the time of the incident. Thus the film merges historical context with personal consequences so that context never feels tacked on as a history lesson as it does in badly made period films.The film also manages to capture the sense of hierarchy so integral to these times,  with working-class women at the bottom of the scale. It is shown clearly when  Maja working as a servant for their rich uncle is almost raped by her uncle (going through what Maria did when she worked for him), and  Maria and Maja experience powerlessness as  neither of them are able to hold him to account, the aunt belligerently denying the whole affair.

The character of Maria herself is one that is entirely engaging and complex, and her foibles and strengths are played with great nuance by Heiskanen. She is at once strong , curious, independent, gifted, fragile and passive. She strikes out on her own with her gifts as a photographer finding beauty in the most unusual of things (such as her neighbor’s down syndrome afflicted daughter who is looked upon as an embarrassing outcast). But still sticks with her husband despite his violent, uncaring and misogynistic  ways- at one point he threatens her with a knife when she dares to stand up to him which lands him in prison and he is shown treating his horses with more respect and love than his wife-simply because as a bewildered Maja relates, she loves him. While the close relationship she develops with the caring camera shop owner Mr. Pedersen is really touching in a non-sentimental way, pointing to a fulfilling relationship she could be having but has not been brave enough to really pursue.

A really moving, considered and evocative film, it makes me want to see more of Troell’s work.

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