Film review: Everlasting Moments

Everlasting Moments
Final Cut Productions, Schneider & Groos

STARRING Maria Eiskanen, Mikael Persbrandt, Jesper Christensen, Callin Öhrvall, Ghita Nørby, Emil Jensen
WRITTEN BY Niklas Rådström, Jan Troell, Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell
PRODUCED BY Thomas Stenderup

SHOT BY Jan Troell, Mischa Gavrjusjov
EDITED BY Niels Pagh Andersen
MUSIC BY Matti Bye
DISTRIBUTED BY Sandrew Metronome, IFC Films, Icon Film Distribution

Seen on 2009-02-12

In early 20th century Sweden, Maria, hubby Sigfrid and litter of children save every kronor they can to continue surviving, despite the greatest danger in their lives being the inconsistent, drunken buffoon hubby, coming home smashed and making a fool of the wife and children, and occasionally even resorting to violence, then returning to his manual labor jobs the next day. Maria steels her tolerance and heeds the words of her dying father: “What God has joined together, you must never separate.” So she’s trapped (though she only seems to mind half the time, and then certainly not to the extent that she’s going to go mad). Stranger is that Sigfrid works hard and works well at his jobs, continually elevating the family’s social status and improving their living conditions, expanding the size of the family, home, and supporting up to seven children – he just happens to horndog now and then or get physical when he isn’t obeyed. The strained relationship between Maria and Sigfrid is the film’s central focus, and is complemented by Maria’s growing interest in taking pictures with the camera she had won in a lottery not long ago (cameras being rare in Sweden for private citizens at this time – at least that’s the impression I got). Her hobby is incited and encouraged by similarly melancholy old codger and local photo store owner, Pedersen, aka “Piff Paff Puff’ (the sound old cameras made when pictures were taken), whose most enjoyable pastime is straining the strings of his violin while his dog whines harmoniously along. Pedersen slowly, but to no real end, becomes infatuated with Maria. As the family moves around Sweden and up the social ladder Maria continues to endure her thoughtless husband while maintaining her wits with her newfound pastime.

Everlasting Moments was based on the real accounts of Maria’s daughter Maja, a central character in the film, who later met Troell and told him her mother’s story (Troell, by the way, wrote, directed, shot and edited the film). Troell was moved by this and created a tribute film to Maria Larsson. What I found most strange was that Larsson’s intent is never clear to us – why does she stay with her husband? Why is photography such a large focus – which appeared to be barely more than a hobby to her? Troell’s fantasy of Maria Larsson reveals his failure to understand her. The film is not shot poorly, but without dynamism… it is bleak old Scandinavia, must like a washed-out, sepia-toned century-old picture. Fanny & Alexander, to counter, was vivacious, colorful and gay while remaining steadfastly serious. That may be a high mark for comparison, but Troell did quote Bergman in the film’s press notes and, as evidenced by the film, clearly is influenced Bergman’s sober assessment of the God’s silence.

I’m sure the title isn’t meant to imply that the film is dreadfully slow. It’s always very difficult to be critical with films like this because it was clearly a labor of love by an 80 year old veteran, and also happens to be in a culture and language I only know of from other films. Troell may be enamored with Bergman, as I’m sure most Swede filmmakers are, but lacks Bergman’s guts. It felt like very little was at stake, despite that enduring a difficult marriage has the capacity for tremendous drama and performances. Here, however, we’re treated to the same expression on Maria’s face scene after scene, with no progression, growth… a face of some discipline and some melancholy – not unlike a timid old man? Moments actually feels like an old driver, rather, the stereotype of an old driver… moderate, careful, wistful… boring! “Understated,” so say the positive critics. Film critic David Thomson remarked (in comments regarding Hal Hartley – a successful understater) that perhaps American cinema is something that must be lusted after, raped, and conquered… which would explain my impatience with this ineffectual product. Beyond that there technically isn’t much wrong with it. The film won five Swedish “Oscars,” including awards for Best Picture, Actor and Actress. My beef is that we never get to the bottom of anything, we never learn about these people. They’re just a little sad, a little quiet, a little this, a little that. Even the child narrator, at the film’s very end, leaves us with “We never understood why she stayed with him.” Troell’s inability to invent the heart of Larsson leaves us with only her and Troell’s pictures – in other words, superficial surface images… and if the pictures aren’t speaking for themselves the silence is much less profound than that of God.

written by David Ashley