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Film Review: Everlasting Moments and the Gift of Patience

April 6, 2009

“Not everyone is endowed with the gift of seeing,” a photographer tells Maria Larsson in Everlasting Moments.  Maria’s aptitude for photography serves as an escape from her busy home life and, as long as we’re patient, the dive into Maria’s early-20th century Swedish life is worth taking.

Director Jan Troell takes his time in Everlasting Moments, a quality that can be frustrating or refreshing, depending on your mood.  From shots that linger longer than we expect of Maria and her husband in an intimate moment to the film’s general pacing, Everlasting Moments never feels hurried.  This fits well with Troell’s portrayal of a working class Swedish life in the early-20th century, certainly not lacking in drama but usually taken at a slower pace than what’s normal today.

Maria (played by Maria Heiskanen) is a sympathetic character, which is crucial considering her husband “Sigge” (Mikael Persbrandt) is such an abusive asshole.  The Larsson’s family gets larger with the addition of a new child, it seems, almost every year, making it increasingly difficult for Sigge’s dockworker wages to put food on the table.  When we first meet Sigge, he stumbles into the Larsson’s very modest house singing loudly, shaming his daughter whose teacher is joining them for dinner.  After his drunken antics force the teacher to leave, Maria makes him promise he will give up drinking and, like all the times before, he promises.

In need of money after Sigge and his coworkers go on strike, Maria takes a Contessa camera she won in a contest (that had been buried in a closet) to a shop to have it appraised.  The man at the photography shop, Sebastian Pedersen, encourages her to try the camera before giving it up, and soon Maria finds the escape she so desperately needs.

“It’s as if the pictures take over [and] I forget I’m a mother,” Maria says.

And while that’s not necessarily a good thing, Maria does need a break from her life.  Tragically, a classmate of Maria’s daughter feels the same way.  In a haunting and incredibly effective marriage of visuals and music, the girl vanishes into a white mist while other girls play nearby.  The next time we see the girl, Maria is asked to take a photo of her.  The resulting shots apparently show Maria’s skill as a photographer.  This more impressive under the context of the early 20th century, when capturing life on a photograph was still a rare experience compared to a world in which cameras are often incorporated into cell phones.

We watch as Maria and her children are treated badly by her unfaithful husband and wait for the moment she considers leaving him.  Even her kids want her to find the courage to leave the man, something her daughter – the film’s narrator – expresses more than once.
On one of Maria’s trips to the camera shop, there’s a twinkle in Mr. Pedersen’s eyes, and hope that Maria might put an end to the drama Sigge creates by leaving him for a more stable life with the cameraman.  She’s tempted to make a move, but remembers what her father said on his deathbed about her marriage:

“Let no one put asunder what God has joined together.”

It is this conflict, and the way Maria resolves it, that will polarize an audience’s reaction.

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