Maria Heiskanen in Everlasting Moments
Maria Larsson is a working-class mother married to Sigge, a dockworker and a philandering alcoholic brute. Living in the early 20th century and born of religiously conservative parents, physical escape for Maria is not a real option. Instead she finds a kind of creative escape when the kindly owner of the local photography studio teaches her to use a camera she’d won in a lottery.
The photographer Sebastian is gentle and patient and everything that Sigge is not. Beginning with the subtle romantic spark between Sebastian and Maria, Everlasting Moments could easily have followed the tropes of any of a number of Hollywood romantic dramas. However, in telling the true story of his wife’s great-aunt, acclaimed Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell (The Emigrants) is more interested in the unique rhythms of a real life than he is in conforming them to fit a familiar pattern. The result may not feel as satisfying on first viewing as expectations are defeated, but ultimately it’s a richer, more thoughtful and more resonant story.
Sketched against a backdrop of economic and social turmoil in Sweden, the film gradually shapes up as a series of lovely fragments loosely held together by the arc of Maria’s life. There are no artificial crescendos and the narrative is not tied up with a neat little bow. Instead, it simply plays out as it must.
Troell’s disinterest in following convention in the unfolding of his story works in the film’s favor, but also works against it at times. Though it always remains unpredictable, it tends to wander at times and the energy sags a bit in the middle of it’s 2-hour plus running time. Its focus and direction at times seem haphazard as the story begins from the perspective of Maria’s oldest daughter Maja only to give way to Maria’s point of view in the middle portion before returning again to Maja in the end. Ultimately though, this looseness is intentional and once you tune into Troell’s peculiar sense of momentum, it works nicely. The film plays even better a second time around.
Everlasting Moments also benefits mightily from the natural and unstrained performances of the cast. Finnish actress Maria Heiskanen holds the film together as the somewhat plain Maria. Her character could easily have been a victim, but she imbues her with a quiet strength, a dignity and a hint of repressed playfulness.
Meanwhile, as the gentle Sebastian, Jesper Christensen turns 180 degrees from his role as the menacing Mr. White in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Past middle age, he’s not a strikingly handsome man, but his gestures, expressions and tone of speech exude an uncommon male warmth that contrasts dramatically with the brutish Sigge.
It’s Sigge who tends to dominate the film whenever he’s on screen. He’s either drunk and boisterous or menacing and full of rage – sometimes both within the same scene. He’s monstrous, but as played by Mikael Persbrandt he’s not a monster. He’s a human being. At times a happy and loving father, he’s uncowed by the hard and physical labor of his job, but he’s tormented by drink and bewildered by his wife’s budding expressions of freedom and independence. It’s impossible to forgive some of his actions, but it’s easy to understand the fear that drives them. When things are going well for Sigge and he’s happy, it’s not hard to see how Maria might have fallen for him in the first place.
In the end, it’s Troell’s equanimity with his characters and his refusal to pass judgment on the ghosts of the past that keep the film from sliding into trite melodrama. While at times I found myself restlessly wanting the story to conform to how I imagined it would be, in the end Everlasting Moments is a finer and more lyric thing for spinning its own narrative in its own way.
Everlasting Moments (Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick). Denmark/Sweden 2008 (US release 2009). Directed by Jan Troell. Written by Jan Troell, Niklas Radstrom and Agneta Ulfsater-Troell from a screen story by Agneta Ulfsater-Troell. Cinematography by Mischa Gavrjusjov. Edited by Niels Pagh Andersen. Score composed by Matti Bye. Starring Maria Heiskanen, Jesper Christensen, Mikael Persbrandt and Callin Ohrvall. 2 hours 5 minutes. Not rated by the MPAA. 4 stars (out of 5)
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