cinematographique

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Everlasting Moments ****½

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Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick is a vision of uncompromising beauty from a septuagenarian director still in his prime.

Everlasting Moments

Jan Troell has received the more attention in the English-speaking world than any Swedish director, bar Ingmar Bergman. Yet he has been as vital a part of that nation’s cinematic history, and perhaps a more relevant and accessible force. Beginning his career as a director of photography for Bo Widerberg, he shared the drive of the latter to make films about people in relation to one another, and the world: running against the ‘vertical’ obsession with the death of God that preoccupied Bergman. Not until Cries and Whispers, then Scenes From A Marriage, did Bergman begin to connect with such themes of vital interest.

And this likely inspired Troell’s focus on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century; particularly, in filming the lives of its singular yet mysterious figures: first, Swedish aviatrix Elsa Andersson in As White as in Snow (Så vit som en snö, 2001) and next, publicist Torgny Segerstedt. In Everlasting Moments, his lens studies Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen), a working class woman who, by turns of fate, became a photographer. From her pictures, to their creation, to the film of her work, Everlasting Moments overflows with images of tremendous natural beauty: another Troell leitmotif.

Everlasting Moments2Before her first kiss, Maria’s daughter Maja (Callin Öhrvall) catches sight of her beau through a pane of glass down which cascades a shroud of water. The girl traces her hand across, parting the flow to glimpse his figure, as it surfaces and again is submerged. Before her first professional photograph, Maria prepares her camera as she stands before the open coffin of a girl, died young. She frames the shot, but spies children glimpsing in through the window panes in naive fascination. She shoes them away, but not before capturing their innocent faces, for her own keepsake. And with her husband Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt) she dances in a spring glade, as the camera dances about them in turn, predatory, yet carefree, dizzying. A film which lives up to its name; and poetry in motion.

Everlasting Moments4If I may probe one motif further… Maria’s darkroom, bathed in red light. Here, these moments return to life and become suspended indefinitely, before a monochromatic red Maria, she suspended for us in the same light. This recurs on several occasions, most poignantly at the film’s close, as Maria’s face fades into portrait from red and fades out. I have no doubt that this is at least a subconscious tip of the hat to Bergman’s palette in Cries and Whispers, and there are several identical fades in that work. And I have no doubt that Troell is fully aware of what Bergman and Sven Nykvist meant by it. Red, to Bergman, is the colour that is internal to the soul: a red dragon, the symbol for deepest, truest, innermost. Cries and Whispers plays out within these red walls, as the souls of its characters commune. In Everlasting Moments, Maria’s is exposed in the darkroom, her everlasting moments illuminated interminably. Think back on the images with this in mind. When Sigfrid stumbles upon her work, and seeing the beauty of her soul laid bare, he sneaks out coyly. And when Maria fades from red, we know what we have seen is of transcendent poésie.

This imagery is all the more potent for the muted sepia tones of the 16mm film, blown up to 35 for a grained veil of authenticity. Through this technique, Troell sought the texture of silent films such as those of Victor Sjöström (famous for his final starring role, in Bergman’s Wild Strawberries), contemporary to the setting of Everlasting Moments. It is perhaps down to this aspiration that the film often feels as though it would come off better in black and white (though it would be a terrible disservice to lose the reds – perhaps some Schindleresque compromise might have been feasible). For an excellent argument to this end, see John Patterson’s blog. It is telling that this is the most potent criticism that comes to mind.

Everlasting Moments3Naturally, Everlasting Moments also deals with issues of class, of marriage and faith, of family and adultery, commensurate to its epoch. These considerations do, it seems, take a back seat to the aesthetic qualities of the film. It is a technical masterpiece, with the most powerful performances from a phenomenal cast of Scandinavian thespians, exquisite costumes and sets, lighting and photography. And amazing to note that all this was possible on a seven million dollar budget (diversified amusingly across 26 financiers). Everlasting Moments is an accomplished work, from a great master, in every sense. It must be seen.

 

Everlasting Moments, Dir. Jan Troell, Writ. Niklas Rådström, Blind Spot Pictures Oy, Sweden, 2008

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