Criterion // 2008 // 131 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // June 23rd, 2010
A miraculous tribute to the power of image making.
Everlasting Moments is the latest film by Swedish director Jan Troell, who co-wrote the script with Niklas Rådström and Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell. While Everlasting Moments is a subtle drama, it is not without ambition. The story is set in Sweden at the beginning of the twentieth century and Troell -- with $7 million in funding provided by twenty-six companies from five countries -- successfully recreates the settings and costumes of the time period to rival any big-budget Hollywood period piece. The film was not only well received upon release, but is now getting the director-approved Criterion treatment.
Based on a true story, Everlasting Moments is about the various struggles of a large, lower-middle class family and the ways in which a camera -- then a newfangled invention -- changes their lives. Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen, A Man's Job) is the harried matriarch, who not only works to help support the family but also takes care of her many children and an alcoholic husband, Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt). Though Sigfrid has many faults -- including the alcoholism and a temper -- he is not without his charms. He can be funny and caring, and is usually fully employed. However, he is in a constant battle with his inner demons.
With all the pressures of her day-to-day life, Maria finds refuge through photography. After winning a camera in a contest she visits a local shopkeeper who provides free lessons and supplies. Maria initially has little time to devote to her new hobby, but when her husband goes off to fight in World War I she not only becomes skillful, but learns how photographs can improve the lives of her neighbors, make the family money, and fill a void in her own life.
Everlasting Moments is not great storytelling, but exemplifies great filmmaking. The story is not so much flawed as it is underwhelming, but Troell's astonishing visuals elevate this film in profound ways. Unlike big-budget movies where explosions and zaftig women distract from you from a story's shortfalls, Troell's visuals -- in particular, his ability to recreate turn-of-the-century Sweden -- enrich this sometimes meandering tale.
This is not to say that the plot or characters of Everlasting Moments are entirely unengaging. The situations are not original -- the drunken father, long-suffering mother, and cowed children are all pretty much standard for the genre -- but Heiskanen's and Persbrandt's performances are both too strong not to elicit interest and sympathy from the audience. It also helps that they never fall back on crude characterizations that would be anachronistic for the time period depicted. Though Maria is lied to, and occasionally physically struck by, her husband, she stays with him and seems to hold onto little of her animosity. Is she weak? Perhaps. However, by expressing herself with the camera she empowers herself and gives herself agency without resorting to the dissolution of the family.
Sigfrid is an even more interesting character. Though many films would have depicted him as an irredeemable cad, he is hard working and does care for his wife and children (though those last two may be debatable). His unpredictability adds much-needed tension to a movie that occasionally lacks excitement or originality.
However, the real star of the movie is Troell and the beautiful visuals he created. Like period films with huge budgets -- think Ron Howard's Far and Away or Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York -- Everlasting Moments creates a world on celluloid wholly different than the contemporary one. Unlike those two examples, which seem to capture only a glossy Hollywood facsimile of their respective time periods, Everlasting Moments makes you feel like you really have gone back in time. I often found myself marveling at the world Troell created. It must have required a staggering amount of creativity and attention to detail. Ultimately, this is the film's greatest asset. Without the amazing visuals, Everlasting Moments would only be slightly better than mediocre, but with them it comes close to greatness. Somehow, that only seems fitting for a movie about the power of imagery.
Though one might imagine the vibrant picture and sound of Blu-ray would have little effect a (relatively) small-budget European film, Everlasting Moments needs to be seem in this format. Kroell shot the movie on 16mm film and had it blown up to 35mm to give it a graininess evoking both the time period and the silent-movie era. Presented in a pristine 1080p resolution, Everlasting Moments still manages to look clean and pristine, even with the evocative sepia grain. In every scene you can see intricate detail in the fading wallpaper, chipped paint, or moldering buildings in the background -- so much so that you almost feel transported to the time period. The cinematography here is truly an achievement.
The soundtrack is presented in a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. The sound is clean with no noticeable defects, but does seem to be a little too confined to the front channels. That said, there are few moments here that would need to employ the back channels. All in all, a solid performance, but nothing worth showing off.
There are not loads of extras here, but a couple solid features. The most substantial is Troell's Magic Mirror, an hour-long documentary detailing Troell's career, from his breakout film The Emigrants up to Everlasting Moments. Since Troell is an accomplished director that is still relatively anonymous in American, this feature will be a great place to learn about his career. "Troell Behind the Camera" is a half-hour featurette that was made during the production of the film and features interviews with the director, cast, crew, and relatives of the real Maria Larsson. "The True Story of Maria Larsson" is a 10-minute featurette displaying real photographs from Larsson along with narration from one of her relatives.
Everlasting Moments is not a great film, but a testament to how a great filmmaker can take a proficient script and still create a movie that is captivating. The visuals here are not only striking, but elevate the story to something more powerful and meaningful than it almost has any right to be.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Swedish)
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery