The opening credits of "Everlasting Moments" (2008) are comprised of close-ups of various parts of a vintage Contessa photo camera: the shutter, the lens, and the focusing mechanism. The tight framing and slow sensual camera movements around the camera body are representative of the director's adoration of the camera as if it were a lover's body. The scene bears similarity in technical aspect to Alain Resnais's masterpiece, "Hiroshima Mon Amour" (1959); Resnais employs a unique compositional technique--two lovers wrapped tightly to each other, and we only see geometrical patterns of their bodies and arms while they make love. In the same way, the segments in both the movies lead to a memory discourse. Indeed, moments later, through a narrator, we realize the camera belongs to the film's main protagonist, Maria. The segment opens up the door to the world of a woman who, against all odds, dared to break free from her melancholy domestic life by perusing photography.
Based on a true story around the turn-of-the-century, "Everlasting Moments" is a story of a simple household wife, Maria Larrson (Maria Heiskanen), who is trapped in an unhappy marriage. Maria is married to Sigfrid Larsson (Mikael Persbrandt), who is an alcoholic and who is physically and verbally abusive to her at all times. He earns his living as a temporary worker doing hard labor, wherever he can find work. Every day after work, he gets drunk with his work buddies, only to later end up beating Maria. One day, Maria locates a camera that she won at a lottery and decides to take it to a local photo shop to sell it so she can buy food for her family. The shop owner, Sebastian Pedersen (Jesper Christensen), recommends to Maria that she use the camera for a little while before selling it.
Thereafter, Maria embarks on a journey of self-discovery and soon realizes the power of the camera. Intuitively, she starts framing artistic compositions that soon impresses Sebastian and later the locals in the town. Sigfrid is unhappy but never makes any attempt to stop Maria's passion for photography. Meanwhile, Maria and Sebastian develop a close working relationship, with Sebastian providing necessary help in developing the photos.
At a deeper level, "Everlasting Moments" is a feminist art piece that resembles in its tone and message two other films I vividly remember: Bergman's "Cries & Whispers" (1972) and Jane Campion's "The Piano" (1993). Although it is not as emotionally brutal as "Cries & Whispers," nonetheless, "Everlasting Moments" is an effective drama that includes moments of heartbreaking scenes interspersed with a slight ray of hope. In reality, the film questions the position and role of women in a patriarchal society.
Through the eyes of Maria, the director, Jan Troell, in subtle, yet, expressive ways presents a broader issue of women imprisoned in hopeless domestic lives. "Cries & Whispers" packs a visceral emotional punch with its portrayal of physical pain inflicted by its characters on themselves. Conversely, "Everlasting Moments" is laid-back in the execution of its feminist theme, but the director never steps back for a minute in presenting the real issue here. More so, Maria's gradual passion for photography can draw similarities to Ada's love for her piano in "The Piano." Both the characters are stuck in bad marriages, but they find happiness in practicing their art forms through photography and music.
For a long period, the Swedish cinema has been represented by Ingmar Bergma--a ubiquitous name in the world cinema. I haven't seen any of Troell's other work, but "Everlasting Moments" has glimpses of Bergman's trademark style that is popularly known as chamber drama. Mostly, the movie is shot indoors in Maria's house, where characters are caught in a hopeless and endless abusive situation. Maria's despair heightens with each passing day, but somehow she manages to stick it out. Above all, Maria and her family cannot share their despondency with the neighbors. Perhaps for the sake of her children, Maria decides to stay married to Sigfrid.
The film excels in the acting department, mainly propelled by fantastic performances from its leads. Maria Heiskanen's performance as a housewife is simply impeccable. In this role, she wears multiple caps as a housewife, mother, and photographer, and she scores high in each of these roles. Even though Maria is subjected to constant suffering over the years, she always presented a brave face to her children. In the early 1900s, underprivileged women were tightly bound to domestic obligations, and the societal pressure made it difficult for them to seek assistance in case of a divorce. Yet Maria finds the emotional strength to talk to her father about how unhappy she is with her marriage.
The physical and sexual suffering inflicted by Sigfrid apparently took an emotional toll on Maria, and she eventually became depressed over the years. To make matters worse, her family was living in extreme poverty, which led to the daily challenge of feeding the kids. Her mental situation somewhat improved after she started exploring photography. It was her outlet from an abusive relationship. Having said this, as a photographer Maria possessed an astute eye in composing the shots and she soon became successful in the community.
One day, Sigfrid comes home angry only to find Maria in a darkroom developing photos. Seeing Maria work in solitude, Sigfrid backs off. Perhaps, it was the tranquility of the room coupled with Maria's sincerity and dedication to photography that stopped Sigfrid from creating a big scene. He soon understands that this boundary solely belongs to Maria and should not be crossed. The scene at the very least highlights Maria's winning moment for the first time--a sign of emancipation from her marriage.
Maria's character is in every shot of the film, and the script provides adequate depth to the characters. As a result, Maria Heiskanen is thoroughly convincing and enjoyable in dual roles. Likewise, Mikael Persbrandt's performance as a wild and reckless husband brings in edginess in scenes involving Maria. Even so, his performance is a perfect counterbalance to the quiet and expressive performance from Maria Heiskanen.
Teaming up with Mischa Gavrjusjov in the cinematography department, Jan Troell brings in some of the most-striking images seen in recent times: Maria photographing a dead girl, Sebastian disappearing in the forest of trees, and the film's palette--all leave lasting impressions. Indeed, "Everlasting Moments" is filled with rich characters and high production values, thereby making a worthwhile viewing experience.
The director's approved anamorphic transfer is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1. To capture thematic elements from the early period of 1900, the palette is deliberately grayish, and bright colors are rarely seen. The image, at times, is soft and has a dreamy feeling to it. The background objects lack detail in some scenes, which is improved in the Blu-ray edition. For this two-disc release, Criterion has utilized the first disc for the movie only, and that results in a higher bit-rate. Overall, the print looks clear and is free of any blemishes.
We get a 5.1 Swedish Dolby Digital Audio track. The movie is a dialogue-driven affair, and this track perfectly captures the serene nature of the drama. The dialogue is audible and clear throughout. The rear channels are rarely used. The movie can be watched with English subtitles.
Criterion has released this movie as a two-disc set. All the extras are included on the second disc.
Starting off the extras is a short documentary, "Troell Behind the Camera," in which Jan Troell discusses the significant of camera in Maria's world. He also provides his thoughts on various scenes from the movie and how the ideas were first conceived.
Up next, we have a short documentary, "The True Story of Maria Larsson," that lays out a collection of Maria's photographs. The narration by Agneta Ulfsater-Troell provides details on Maria's life, her marriage to Sigfrid, and life in Sweden during the 1900s.
Finally, Criterion has included an hour-long documentary, "Troell's Magic Mirror," in which Jan Troell discusses his working style, vision, and importance of a camera for any director. He recalls his childhood moments when got a firsthand experience with a camera. Further, he talks about his work from the past and his brief tenure in Hollywood.
The original theatrical trailer is included on the first disc.
It is a welcome change to not see Bergman's name associated with a Swedish movie. Jan Troell's "Everlasting Moments" consistently delivers a satisfying experience primarily owing to a credible performance by Maria Heiskanen. Her performance is emotionally uplifting and empowering. The script is spot-on in delivering its message. The movie's pace might not bode well for some viewers, but for others deciding to check this, Maria's story is painful as well as delightful and only beams with a ray of hope. "Everlasting Moments" comes hugely recommended.
Criterion has also released the Blu-ray edition of the movie that is reviewed here.