Everlasting Moments (2008) dir. Jan Troell
Starring: Maria Heiskanen, Mikael Persbrandt, Jesper Christensen, Callin Öhrvall
The title of this Swedish festival pic now landing for its limited theatrical release I assume refers to the idea of a photograph capturing a moment forever in time. “Everlasting Moments” is not a Kodak Moment film, instead a frustrating dramatization of prolonged spousal abuse, resulting in admirable art house filmmaking, but unsatisfactory cinematic entertainment.
Its 1909 Sweden, young Maja Larsson narrates the story of her mother Maria (Maria Heiskanen) and her strained relationship with her husband and Maja's father, Sigge (Mikael Persbrandt). We’re told the day they met, Maja serendipitously won a camera in a lottery. The story of this marriage is told parallel to the story of this camera. The opening moments of romantic bliss (about 2mins of screentime) quickly make way for the tempestuous quarrelling which come to plague the family.
Sigge, a dock worker with a leaning toward union socialism, is a complete shit – a drunk, who despite joining the temperance society consistently falls of the wagon, he also cheats on Maria over and over again, beats her and threatens to kill her, once with a hot iron and once with a straight razor. Despite this she gives birth to five of his children and stays with him through everything, even after he goes to jail. Maja’s respite is her camera which becomes her symbol of individualism and strength. Her pictures are brilliant and she becomes a sought-after artist in town.
As I was watching this film I was trying to remind myself that this film is supposed to be ‘entertaining’. Though the performance were strong and the environment dramatized by Troell was genuine, there was little entertainment in this film. Entertainment comes in all shapes and size, and depressing movies have its place cinema, as entertainment, but only if it pushes core emotional buttons.
The film is narrated from the point of view of Maria’s young daughter Maja and takes place over 20 years or so. With this kind of lengthy episodic storytelling we expect to see to the ups and downs of Maria’s life. Unfortunately it’s a continual beat down of her character. We also expect some comeuppance for Sigge, and time and again Maria leaves Sigge off the hook for his heinous behaviour. We're meant to believe Maria stays with Sigge because of her father's dying beside commandment to never break the bond of marriage. And so, the only buttons this film pushes is frustration.
Maria isn’t completely subjugated of course, she has her camera and other more defiant methods of vengeance against Sigge. During the two most intense moments of violence against her, Maria stands her ground like any strong mother would for her family – not backing down from the base expression of anger from Sigge. These are two great and powerful scenes for Maria and Ms. Heiskanen who plays her. And so when we see Maria pick up Sigge after years in prison, it’s painful for the audience to see this man get, not a second, but a THIRD chance.
Perhaps the film is entirely about the dramatic irony established in the opening scene. The camera, which was once the symbol of Sigge and Maria’s discovery of love which becomes the symbol of what keeps them apart – or from Maria’s point of view, what give her the strength and superiority over Sigge.
This film appears to be universally showered with praise by the likes of Roger Ebert, Todd McCarthy, Kenneth Turan. Was I watching a different movie? The film was directed by revered filmmaker Jan Troell ('The Emigrants'). So nope, it definitelty was a Swedish art house film by an aging 78-year old master auteur. To each his own, but buyer beware.