With a title evocative of a gauzy camera ad, Everlasting Moments is a tastefully framed period story of a working-class woman’s struggle for self-fulfillment through art; the modest narrative, though fitfully melodramatic, announces its aspiration to epic seriousness with every burnished and carefully dressed scene. In a Swedish port town of a century ago, Finnish-born and regularly pregnant Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen) cleans aristocrats’ homes and labors at a sewing machine to supplement the unsteady income of drunken, abusive husband Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt), a dockworker with a halfhearted commitment to anarchism and a stronger one to womanizing. Looking to pawn a long-neglected camera, Maria instead is encouraged by a gentle, older commercial photographer (Jesper Christensen) to transform her daily experience by taking pictures, and she inevitably becomes an instinctive chronicler of street life, forlorn children, and family tragedy, to the increasing resentment of her boorish spouse. Jan Troell, whose backseat to Bergman as his nation’s “1A” director rests heavily on two international hits made four decades ago, is trying for an intimate drama that champions the egalitarian creative instinct, but despite the unsettled yearning with which Heiskanen infuses Maria, the riddle of her decision to stay in her trying marriage is more frustrating than enigmatic, her children (including the narrating daughter) are a two-dimensional horde, and her venerated photos make for dubious folk art. Though it’s swaddled in pretty tones of glowing sepia and twilight gold, Everlasting Moments most blatantly flaunts the aura of award-bait in the chaste romance between lower-depths Galatea and her compassionate but unavailable mentor, for which it was duly honored with an armful of Swedish Oscars. Unfortunately, Troell’s lens doesn’t consistently uncover the beauty and character we’re asked to believe his heroine finds with hers.
The Criterion Collection again raises the bar. Right on the heels of their immaculate two-disc edition of Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up, the company bestows on Jan Troell's Everlasting Moments a high-definition digital transfer that's near-flabbergasting in detail. Sepia-toned or not, the image dazzles throughout with its beatific color saturation and skin tones and stunning black levels and shadow delineation, with nary a digital artifact in sight. (Grain can be pronounced at times, wavering sometimes from shot to shot within the same scene, but this is surely due to the film stock used during shooting.) The audio is perfectly mixed: The narration and dialogue are clear, while the occasional sound effect—like the explosion on the ship and the ferocious galloping of Sigfrid's angry horse—travels sturdily across the entire soundstage.
Clocking in at a little over 28 minutes, "Troell Behind the Camera" sweetly dovetails Maria Larsson and Troell's romantic obsessions with cameras. Troell considers it a "miracle" to be able to shoot his own pictures, and his passion for the medium of film is further elaborated in the hour-long "Troell's Magic Mirror," which commemorates the director's life, work, and wisdom (at one point he compares his camera to the antennae of an ant). Larsson herself is the subject of a photo essay narrated by her distant relative Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell, also one of Everlasting Moment's screenwriters, that showcases her breathtaking—and groundbreaking—photographs from the early part of the 20th century. You'll also find in this two-disc set a theatrical trailer (on disc one) and a booklet with an ecstatic essay by Armond White.
Emotionally and politically complex, Everlasting Moments hauntingly conflates a woman's spiritual awakening with the birth of cinema.