REVIEW: Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick [Everlasting Moments] [2008]

“No one ever died of a bit of the belt”

What a gorgeous poster, and frankly a gorgeous film despite its hard look at love conquering abuse, alcoholism, and the shattering of dreams. Sometimes two people find themselves forgiving each other, not out of weakness, but out of the underlying powerful love bonding them. Academy Award nominee Jan Troell’s new film Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick, or Everlasting Moments here in the states, is a slow unveiling of what it was like to live in Sweden as a below Middle Class citizen, striving to feed your seven children and attempting to survive. It pulls no punches and shows life in all its dirty ways, engrained in the memories of all involved and displayed on film for our viewing, much like the photographs taken by Maria Heiskanen’s Maria Larsson. These photos prove to her she is worth something in this world, showing her a talent that is unappreciated by her cheating husband, but viewed as magnificence from her tutor and friend Sebastian Pederson, (Jesper Christensen), and those in the town she lives, even helping to support them when times are tough.

Sometimes that admiration trickles down and changes people like her brutish husband, played by Mikael Persbrandt, and sometimes that change happens too late. So much occurs to make you angry with Maria for not leaving Sigge after any of the numerous chances he gives her. Following his drunken verbal lashes, his jealous rages forcing himself on her, or even his threats of murder with a knife against her neck, she always looks at him and finds that love she fell for years ago. When he comes back from jail sober and rested, he is a different man, but each time temptation ruins his redemption. Whether her father’s declaration, upon Maria asking permission to divorce him, of “you will be together until death do you part” lingers at the back of her head or not, she always finds forgiveness. Her children grow up to realize what is happening between the two, even questioning her reasons for staying as well. It is a different time and having so many mouths to feed in a poor neighborhood negates some options. It is only in her camera, a fine Contessa, is she able to escape into a frozen reality where a smile stays forever. She wishes one day her life can remain static in that state as well, never falling back into the violence her Sigge is so capable of providing.

The acting is masterful and the direction tight and controlled. Authenticity is prevalent throughout from costume to emotions to events. The Swedish film spans many years and we see the young children age and pursue an education, pushed towards by Maria against Sigge’s wishes for them all to work and earn money rather than waste time studying. Each passing year brings more and more trouble whether a new child, a new job utilizing Sigge’s size and strength, a new photographing job that only angers Maria’s husband, World War I taking the patriarch away to the fight, or death and disease in the house or nearby. One may argue that the film portrays a weak woman staying with an abusive man, but I believe the story is more complicated than that. Sure Sigge is a horrible specimen of a human, without fail, but there is goodness inside of him. The pressures and stress of the times weighs heavy on everyone, yet manifest into anger when he can’t quite handle it. Everlasting Moments becomes a study of love bonding together two people despite every worldly attempt to separate them forever. You almost begin to root for the Larsson family to survive it all, because you begin to see what could be.

What really works above all else is the style. What at first seems very straightforward soon becomes seen as a very specifically shot film. With muted tones you begin to feel as though you are spying on photographs from the start of the 20th century. I also loved the moments when we get to see the photos that Maria and Pedersen take, even at times looking through the viewfinder at the upside-down image being sent through the camera. Even a throwaway moment of Pedersen showing Maria a moth/butterfly through the lens of the camera against his hand becomes a moment of beauty. Every detail is meticulously placed and included, all becoming a part of a fully fleshed world once the characters begin to move around in it. Heiskanen is fantastic as Maria, coping with the troubles of her husband, expressing the happiness she feels behind her camera or with Pedersen, and embodying the maternal love for her children. Persbrandt is a revelation as well, playing Sigge. The children nail it correctly when saying he reminds them of the bad guy in Charlie Chaplin’s film, but his ability to navigate the emotional parts, to have that tear roll down his cheek or to hold his dead friend in his arm, even the jubilance of seeing his horse still in its place once he returns from jail one last time, really show the man he is deep inside, beneath the hard exterior.

Jesper Christensen is my favorite, though—an enigma to the proceedings. Is he a wishful suitor for Maria or just a man who desires talent? How much of his helping her pay for supplies stems from his feelings towards her or his eye in seeing the skill and potential to be a professional photographer? It’s a wonderful scene at the end, one after we see the two of them in an exchange that hints at burgeoning love, where the unwritten and impossible love between them is shown. The camera bonds them forever; it was just bad timing that won’t allow them to ever be together. This relationship is an important affair of the mind; one she needs to cope with the affairs of the flesh Sigge has behind her back. Their stolen moments together in the darkroom developing photos can almost be seen as more romantic than any she shares with another during the course of the film. They become her own everlasting moments, imbedded in her mind like the images held still on her developed stock. Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick may be long and trying at times, but for all the filler, the moments that work make it a worthwhile journey to take, watching the many forms of love and how when it seems all but lost, it rekindles and burns once more.

Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick [Everlasting Moments] 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
[1] Maria Heiskanen as Maria Larsson in IFC Films’ ‘Everlasting Moments’
[2] Jesper Christensen as Sebastian Pedersen and Maria Heiskanen as Maria Larsson in IFC Films’ ‘Everlasting Moments’

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