Friday, March 06, 2009

Maria Larsson’s Everlasting Moments

Were it not for Ingmar Bergman, Jan Troell would probably be celebrated as Sweden’s preeminent director, based on the multiple Academy Award nominations for The Immigrants and The New Land, his two picture epic often described as the Scandinavian Gone with the Wind. Troell’s films have a distinctly Swedish sensibility, telling sweeping historical stories with austerely reserved characters. Such is the case with his latest film, Everlasting Moments (trailer here), depicting a turn of the Twentieth Century Swedish woman who takes a measure solace in photography, which opens today in New York.

Maria Larsson’s husband Sigfrid is a brute. His hulking size often gets him work on the docks, but the local pub is more likely to see his wages than Maria. When complains, he responds with physical beatings, but her rigid father refuses to help her leave the abusive relationship. One day she wins a camera, which she promptly sets off to sell. However, Sebastian Pedersen, the genial owner of the nearest photography studio convinces her to experiment with it for a little while before selling it. When she returns with her first attempts, he is immediately impressed by her eye.

Over the course of Everlasting, the Larsson family suffers every trial and tribulation imaginable, with much of the trouble coming from their father, including serial philandering, chronic unemployment, military service, violent criminal activity with his radical trade union, and eventual incarceration. Sig Larsson might be irresponsible, but he is certainly potent, necessitating a mob of young actors to play the ever burgeoning Larsson brood over the years. At the center of the storm is Maria Larsson, played with dignified restraint by Maria Heiskanen, who implies much but says little.

Everlasting is best during the closely observed moments between Heiskanen and Jesper Christensen as Pedersen, capturing the furtive glances and incidental touches held slightly too long. Troell also deserves credit for not overplaying the clichéd feminist artist angle. In truth, Pedersen thinks far more of her talents than Larsson does. She is even able to put her camera away for years at a time, to concentrate on her family’s survival.

Clocking-in at well over two hours, Everlasting is quite deliberately paced, so audiences should be prepared to settle in for the long haul. Troell, who often serves as his own D.P., splits those duties with cinematographer Misha Gavrjusjov on Everlasting, creating a warm, earthy look for the film. Troell is a painterly filmmaker, whose own sense of composition matches that of his subject. Although it is often grimly naturalistic, Troell captures some moments of truth and beauty that linger in the memory. It opens today in New York at the Sunshine and Lincoln Plaza.