by Sam C. Mac Film Horizon Line

Everlasting Moments — Jan Troell

March 16, 2009

Everlasting it may not be, but, at 131 minutes, Jan Troell’s new Swedish melodrama isn’t exactly short. It plods, and it does so while telling an all-too familiar story of turbulent marital relations. Set in the Sweden of a century ago, Everlasting Moments depicts several years in the lives of an ever-growing and impoverished family, specifically mom and dad: Mousey, Finnish-born Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen) and her abusive drunkard of a husband, Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt). The latter is rarely home, preferring to cavort about town with his young mistress and his anarchist buddy, Englund (Emil Jensen). When Sigfrid and his crew go on strike, Maria has to work longer hours, cleaning the houses of aristocrats. But when she discovers a camera in her closet, leading her to the offices of kindly commercial photographer Sebastian Pedersen (Jesper Christensen), Maria finds another way to support the family. Solace waits for Maria behind the lens of the camera, and it’s her love of photography that becomes central to the plot, expressing the film’s theme of “capturing a moment forever,” and obviously inspiring its title.

Of course, this concept is nothing new — Kodak’s slogan has purported something similar for at least half a century. The same can be said of the filmmaking on display as well. Five-time Academy Award nominee Troell, often considered the second best Swedish director ever (after Bergman), does not live up to his formidable reputation. There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before, and (excepting a few well-placed zooms) the craft isn’t striking enough to invigorate this tired material. Troell affects his visuals with sepia tones, a clichéd aesthetic used to convey agedness. Unfortunately, the plot is just as predictable: each moment comes just as we expect it to, and when we expect it to, almost routinely. This makes for a film that feels too balanced in its construction and — ultimately — too safe.

There’s enough going on in Maria’s and Sigfrid’s hectic lives to make them interesting; and their characters are given some dimension thanks to strong, nuanced performances from both Heiskanen and Persbrandt. This is especially true of Heiskanen, whose work manages to convey both a firm resolve and a certain vulnerability, transcending the generalized part Troell has written for her. On the other hand, the seven kids of the family have little personality, and differentiating between them often becomes difficult. Even the eldest, Maja (played first by Nellie Almgren, and later by Callin Ohrval — who’s also the narrator of the story), is given little more to do than react to her father’s mistreatment of her mother and, later, to engage in a brief and underdeveloped romance with a local boy. It’s Maja’s story that’s supposedly being told, but so much happens on screen that she couldn’t possibly know about (for instance, her father’s various escapades), making the narration seem all the more unnecessary, especially when it drops out for long periods of time, only to surface in a very pandering way, explaining that which clearly doesn’t require explanation. What’s worse, the film fails to make us understand why a self-sufficient woman like Maria stays with her abusive, alcoholic, cheating, and slovenly partner. As a result of this failed characterization, it feels hard to stomach the film’s “happy” ending. Troell’s film can be enjoyed for its palatable quaintness, but Everlasting Moments is, ironically, not all that memorable.