Everlasting Moments (Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick) [DVD]
Director : Jan Troell
Screenplay : Niklas Rådström (co-writers Jan Troell and Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell; story by Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Maria Heiskanen (Maria Larsson), Mikael Persbrandt (Sigfrid Larsson), Jesper Christensen (Sebastian Pedersen), Callin Öhrvall (Maja Larsson 15-22), Nellie Almgren (Maja Larsson age 8-10), Birte Heribertsson (Narrator / Aunt Tora), Ghita Nørby (Miss Fagerdal), Amanda Ooms (Matilda), Emil Jensen (Englund), Claire Wikholm (Grandmother Karna), Ann Petrén (Ida), Antti Reini (Finnish Sea Captain), Annika Lundgren (Miss Öst), Maria Lundqvist (Miss Petrén), Hans Henrik Clemensen (Mr. Fagerdal)
We take photographs for granted, and have for a long time. Especially in the age of digital cameras, YouTube, and Facebook, the wonderment of capturing a fleeting moment and being able to hold it in your hands and examine it has been lost on us. The miracle of capturing time in impressions of light is familiar, expected, even banal. Writing in the late 1940s, the great film theorist André Bazin noted that photographs “embalm time,” by which he meant they are the endpoint of a long history of human attempts (including mummification and sculpture) to stop the unstoppable march of time. Photography has thus allowed us to capture the ephemeral, putting into physical form something that has no actual presence.
It is that magical, freeing quality of photography that director Jan Troell captures so beautifully in his film Everlasting Moments (Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick). Troell, who began his career as a cinematographer and still shoots most of his own films (he shared credit here with Mischa Gavrjusjov), takes the art of photography with the utmost seriousness, and each shot in the film is testament to the powers of composition and lighting, as well as the internalized understanding we have of faded colors and grain (the entire film has the wintry look of old photographs rediscovered in a box in the back of a closet). Troell is still best known for his historical dramas of the early 1970s, The Emigants (1971) and The New Land (1972), and Everlasting Moments, with its powerful evocation of a time long since past that still speaks to us in the present, is cut from the same cloth, although it bears the traces of an older filmmaker (he’s now 75) who can imbue each frame with his own bittersweet understanding of the great passage of time.
The film tells the story of the contentious marriage between Maria and Sigfrid Larsson (Maria Heiskanen and Mikael Persbrandt) over a 15-year period beginning in 1907, when photography was an established medium of representation and expression, but was still largely outside the purview of non-professionals. The story is narrated by their daughter Maja, who is eight years old when the film begins, but is clearly speaking from a great distance in time (visually and tonally, the film strikes a powerful sense of fading memories in danger of disappearing forever). Maja tells us that Maria won a Contessa folding camera at a carnival while Sigfrid was still courting her, and we see Maria rediscover the camera several years later and learn to use it, first out of curiosity, but then out of a deep-felt need to escape her place in life, even as it causes her guilt by taking away from her responsibilities as a mother. She also feels guilt because she is drawn to Sebastian Pedersen (Jesper Christensen), a kind-hearted photographer who owns a studio and helps her procure chemicals and supplies, thus encouraging her hobby when no one else does. His kindness is a light in the dark, and their relationship is a quiet, unspoken dance of mutual respect and growing attraction.
The events depicted in the film are based on the memoirs of Majan Oman, the real-life Maria’s daughter who is a distant cousin of Troell’s wife, Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell. Shaped into an elegant screenplay by Niklas Rådström (with help from the Jan and Agneta), Maja’s memories provide an emotionally stirring portrait of life in Sweden in the second decade of the twentieth century, both politically and domestically. The contentious working environment, fraught with strikes and divided among various political factions, shape the alternately blissful and tumultuous homelife of the Larssons, as Sigfrid is in and out of work, putting a financial strain on the already strapped family (they live in a one-room apartment with half a dozen children). Sigfrid is also a difficult man to live with; big, boisterous, and lively, he is also prone to getting drunk and violent and has an eye for other women, which frequently leads him astray. Gender dynamics of the era ensure Maria’s loyalty despite being a victim of physical violence and emotional neglect, yet one of the film’s most powerful elements is its refusal to draw simplistic lines and turn Sigfrid into a one-note monster or Maria into a martyr. Late in the film, Maja’s voice-over informs us that she never understood why her mother stayed with her father, and while we have no real explanation either, the film makes us feel their togetherness despite the discord, and it is telling that Troell chooses to put this line of narration over a still image of them dancing, reminding us once again of photography’s power to capture that which escapes us.
|Everlasting Moments Criterion Collection DVD|
|Everlasting Moments is also available from The Criterion Collection on Blu-Ray.|
|Audio||Swedish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||June 29, 2010|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Criterion’s high-definition transfer of Everlasting Moments, which was taken from the original 16mm camera negative, does the film’s earthy, sepia-hued beauty full justice. The image is well-defined and features excellent depth and detail, which has a special flavor given the fact that the film was shot on 16mm, which introduces more grain and texture into the image (although not too much, as it would have had the transfer come from a 35mm blowup). However, that is precisely how Jan Troell wanted the film to look, and this DVD does an excellent job of rendering the image accordingly (I can only image how much more impressive the Criterion Blu-Ray is). The clean, crystal-clear Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack was transferred at 24-bit from the original digital audio master.|
|In the supplements on the second disc of this two-disc set, viewers will find a wealth of information about Jan Troell and the production of this deeply personal film. “Troell Behind the Camera” is a half-hour documentary that traces the film’s production, starting with script read-throughs and pre-production meetings, and then on to rehearsals, filming, and finally editing. It features lengthy interviews with Troell and actors Maria Heiskanen and Mikael Persbrandt, as well as archival footage of the real-life Maria Larsson and her still-living granddaughter. More about Maria Larsson can be found in the fascinating “The True Story of Maria Larsson,” a collection of photographs by Larsson that is narrated by Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell. Finally, there is Troell’s Magic Mirror, an hour-long documentary about the director’s storied career that is one of the most candid and incisive portraits of a filmmaker I have ever seen. Unlike many artists, Troell feels no need to put up any pretensions, and his naked honesty and openness in the interviews makes me want to see all of his films.|
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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