MARIA LARSSON’S EVERLASTING MOMENTS
(Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick)
131 Minutes // Sweden // Final Cut Productions
dir. Jan Troell
Thursday, July 2nd, 2009
starring: Maria Heiskanen, Mikael Persbrandt & Jesper Christensen
Maria Larsson’s Everlasting Moments is Jan Troell’s latest feature in his lengthy and accomplished career. Having compiled an extensive amount of awards and nominations in his native land of Sweden, along with two Oscar nominations that he earned early in his career, the now 77 year old director seems to have returned to his grass roots of telling stories with fervor.
Making the final 9 in last years Foreign Feature race for the Academy Awards, Everlasting Moments seemed to have had a nomination in the bag. With the outstandingly positive reception, the genuinely distressful story, and a fantastic ensemble it seemed like it couldn’t lose. Unfortunately, the film is hardly the most uplifting and falls fatally to the cold clutches excruciating emotional agony – this is clearly the opposite of what the Academy was aiming their eyes at last year.
The story is fairly simple, but the emotions and thought process of the characters run deep. A man and a woman raise a family in early 1900’s Sweden – the husband, Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt) is a vulgar, vigorous and vain man. Like most men in that day and age, Sigfrid wears his manliness like a medal on his chest – even if it constitutes flaunting his adultery and weary husband skills. As a father, he is loving, but often allows his immorality to take hold of him. Trying to deal with a slew of children that keep growing in numbers is Maria (Maria Heiskanen) a fragile young woman who, as time passes, allows her dreams and desires of a stable existence to slip away. The two parents interact with each other seldom – each finding their own paths to walk along; Sigfrid with his on-again off-again alcoholism in a society that requires you to be in the Sobriety Club if you want to be among the top echelon of the accepted in the city – and Maria with her new found love for photography after in much need to money and a failed attempt at pawning the camera her mother and father won at a Carnival; what was the single event that brought them together in marriage. This contrasts tragically with how Sigfrid reacts upon hearing about Maria’s new passion.
As she grows deeper and deeper into photography, she slowly begins to slip away from her profession – sewing torn clothing for various prices; an expert sewer – and keeping her family from falling under rule of their brutish and inane father. In the end, you cannot blame Maria for the choices she makes in the society she lives in. At one point, she contemplates divorcing Sigfrid because of his constant betrayal of her simple desires to keep their family content, but her father thinks its a terrible idea. Rather, he says it in as blunt a manner as possible and basically forbids her from leaving Sigfrid – this shows the fundamentally Christian mentality of that era and how women are peons and their thoughts are superfluous compared to those of men. Jan Troell uses his remarkable aesthetic wisdom to create a sometimes brooding – sometimes frothy atmosphere. Intelligently blending the warming, chilling, but above all vacated color palletes with the soulful and earnest score is one of the films greatest virtues.
Time plays a key role in the film and Maria’s love for her camera is clearly the main focus – her cohesion to it is more powerful than her bond with her husband. After Sigfrid forbids her to use the camera, the film skips ahead five years to the next time she holds her camera with purpose and aspirations, instantaneously rekindling her love for the lens and her friendship with the local camera store owner in Sebastian Pedersen (Jesper Christensen), a divorced man with an daughter on the brink of adulthood. Did I mention he also has a little thing for Maria and her heavyhearted existence.
As time passes, their oldest male, Sven (Max Eskilsson) as ambitions of becoming a doctor, but Sigfrid finds intelligence and aspirations to be incompetent and soon tells his oldest son that he has to fulfill his physical duties as a man. Almost the exact same is said to their daughter Maja (Callin Öhrvall) when she wishes to become fluent in German and evolve into a well-versed young woman. Needless to say, their fatherly nourishment stunts their hopes of having a more-than-mundane existence.
In a stimulating subplot, Sigfrid and his drinking buddies/long time pals have some interesting conversation. This is mainly due to his best friend Englund (Emil Jensen) and his new found fascination with Russian anarchist Kropotkin. Reading the novel Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution dampened the young man’s view of religion and soon his mere presence creates such a depression that it resonates throughout the film. This adds depth to the story in that this world – the one he’s living in – has no place for a thinking man. In doing so, it also quietly makes the statement that not all men can be divided into the two categories of brutes and the stiff lipped upper class; which the film seems to be hinting before Englund is given time to speak.
What the film does best is opposite of what Ingmar Bergman did to get his acclaim. Rather than overplaying the verbal encounters of people, this film underplays the human emotion and overplays the importance of purpose. This allows for a lot of leeway for the two lead performers to create extremely diverse and similarly harrowing performances. It is unlikely that either will be topped by years end; Mikael Persbrandt gives a sometimes villainous, sometimes careful, but always sincere performance that will leave you feeling remarkable at the end – and for those who are fans of Bergman, you’ll likely see a glimmer of Liv Ullmann’s raw acting in Maria Heiskanen’s unfortunate performance. Infinitely more honest than theatrical – the best type of acting.
Personally, I love the nostalgia the film entails. The setting is not only essential to the logistics of telling of the story, but it also shows much more intensely how important photography is to Maria. The patience of taking a good photo, the efforts of reloading the camera for a singular photo, the processing of the photos in a darkroom — it creates fascinating parallels between the technology of then and the technology of now and just how much we take everything for granted.
The final chapter of this deeply complex and poetic tale is a rather uplifting one, considering the begrudged views on existentialism. The seemingly long tour of the lives of this family – clocking in at 2+ hours – comes off unusually short. Troell manages to create a currently unmatched story that is sure to leave you pondering life, love and fate. Although it’s set in Sweden, the film’s message – memories of the past are an important piece of creating a better path for yourself – is universal and therefore succeeds where 95% of all other foreign movies do not. This is the best film of the year and will need stifling competition for it to drop a position. A virtuoso masterpiece that has reinvigorated my love for Scandinavian cinema. An everlasting masterpiece.