Combustible Celluloid
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With: Maria Heiskanen, Mikael Persbrandt, Jesper Christensen, Emil Jensen, Ghita Nørby, Hans Henrik Clemensen, Amanda Ooms, Antti Reini, Birte Heribertsson, Claire Wikholm
Written by: Niklas Rådström, based on a story by Jan Troell, Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell
Directed by: Jan Troell
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Swedish, Finnish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 131
Date: 09/05/2008

Everlasting Moments (2009)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Developing Interest

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A year ago, I panned Jan Troell's newest film, Everlasting Moments. I had seen the film at the second half of a double feature with a bland French film, an Oscar hopeful, called Paris 36. I saw many similarities between the two films and wrote a grumbling review of Everlasting Moments based on those similarities and based on my annoyance with the way the Oscar committee manages to attract -- and even inspire -- bland, artless films. However, a year later, I attended a tribute to Troell and saw the film a second time, and this time, unencumbered by Oscar nonsense and by the presence of any other film, I was able to slow down and appreciate the film moment by moment. Watching with new eyes, I saw something quite special, and it was enough to make me take down my old, negative review and replace it with a new, positive review.

The story takes place over the course of many years in the early 1900s, when Maria (Maria Heiskanen) wins a camera and marries Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt). Together they start to raise a large brood of children, and she eventually takes the camera to a local shop, hoping to sell it. But the shop proprietor Sebastian (Jesper Christensen) sees something in Maria, encourages her to keep the camera and teaches her how to use it. A neighbor engages her to photograph her dead daughter, and Maria comes up with her first photographic masterpiece: a shot of children looking through a window at the dressed-up corpse. But her life is not exactly a bed of roses, and this is not one of those "rich-and-famous" success stories; Sigfrid is a burly, sometimes abusive drunk who carries on with waitresses in his spare time. He constantly shifts jobs and even spends some time in prison. This is a tricky portrait, and Troell manages to give Sigfrid some humanity in spite of his faults. But because of Sigfrid, Maria cannot take pictures as often as she'd like, and the camera spends years at a time in a trunk at the back of the closet. Not to mention that when Maria does take out her camera, she begins to feel guilty of neglecting her family (also partly fueled by her attraction to Sebastian).

I still have some trouble with the large chunk of time the movie covers; it's sometimes difficult to tell the kids from one another since they age and are replaced by new actors every few scenes. And some scenes are a little too compact for the same reasons. But this time I was better able to appreciate the detail and poetry that went into each sequence, especially some of the photographic ones. Maria clearly begins to look at the world with new eyes once she learns her camera, and the film follows suit, conjuring up breathtaking images even when Maria is not there. We see two young lovers watching each other from both sides of a waterfall cascading down a window, or the sinister shadow of a blimp sliding over the town. Everlasting Moments is indeed a movie that requires some patience, and I was far too impatient the first time I saw it. I hope this second review can make up for whatever damage my first review may have caused.

Thankfully, the Criterion Collection has come along to draw some attention to this sorely neglected film. Approved by Troell, their new Blu-Ray release is as gorgeous as expected, fully capturing the soft, monochromatic, old-fashioned look of the film. Extras include an on-set documentary about Troell, a featurette with photographs by the real-life Maria, an hour-long documentary on Troell and his career, and a trailer. Critic Armond White, who was one of the film's staunchest supporters, provides the liner notes.

For DT.

Best Buy Co, Inc.