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Film Review

Everlasting Moments

Jan Troell, the second greatest (after Bergman) Swedish film maker, now 78, is best known in America for his pair of epic films about the immigrant experience in America, The Emigrants and The New Land, both done in the early 70's. Troell has just produced a marvelous new film, Everlasting Moments, that looks closely and beautifully at the experience of Maria Larsson, a Swedish working class mother of seven children, from 1907 to about 1920. Her story is seen through the eyes of her oldest daughter, Maja, who herself died in 1992, and provides a voice over for much of the film. Her husband, Sigge, a dock worker, is mostly a good husband, but when drunk, often threatens her. Maria's life is hard even without her husband's drunken bouts. Needing money, she tries to sell a camera that she had won in a lottery but never used, to the owner of a photography studio, Pedersen He is a very kind, older man with a faithful companion, a bloodhound named Leo, who accompanies his owner's violin playing by baying. Pedersen is charmed by Maria, and shows her the magic of the lens, focusing the image of a fluttering moth against the wall. He persuades her to take a few pictures, and gives her some glass plates and developing materials. And she does, with unexpectedly beautiful results. But when she decides that her camera work is causing her to neglect her children, Pedersen encourages her, saying "Not everyone is endowed with the gift of seeing."

The story continues with Sigge drafted to defend Sweden at the beginning of World War I, while Maria has to manage by herself with the children. One day, her friend and neighbor asks her to photography her dead daughter. "So that I can have something to remember her with". Her husband is resentful of her enterprise, and furious when he sees her photograph in the studio window. And he becomes even more angry when he comes home to find the house filled with people waiting to have their photographs taken. Meanwhile he is seeing other women, becomes involved in a violent strike, and is arrested. So we think we know that Sigge is an irretrievably bad person. I've left much out, and don't want to say more, as the story moves in unexpected ways. The pacing is slow, but never boring, like a photographic plate being developed. And it portrays a woman with enormous strength and dignity, who becomes her own person through her work. She develops, just as her photographs develop.

Everlasting Moments is a beautifully filmed work, clearly by a master. Every scene is exquisitely composed, many so gorgeous and haunting that you will carry them forever. A scene of children looking through a window at Maria and the dead daughter is unforgettable. As is a group of children being entertained by shadow hands, when suddenly they are completely shadowed by a dirigible. The film alternates in grays and color, color when spring arrives. There is a strong elegiac quality here, appropriate for a film that celebrates the the effort to preserve time and memories. Although Maria was a real person, this film seems to me to speak for millions of others, all now forgotten, as Maria would be had it not been for her photographs and her daughter. Good photography is a messenger from the past, from vanished worlds, and from long dead people, all preserved forever in their images. And Troell's film does the same for Maria and her world; it is magical. This is not a sentimental film, but it is very rich, full of humanity, and often moving. I loved every minute of this film. Just opened at the Embarcadero, and wonderful on the large screen.

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