Sweden, early 1900s. In a time of social change and unrest, war and poverty, a young working class woman, Maria, wins a camera in a lottery. The decision to keep it alters her whole life. The camera grants Maria new eyes with which to see the world, and brings the charming photographer "Piff Paff Puff" into her life. Trouble ensues when Maria's alcoholic, womanising husband, feels threatened by the young man and his wife's newfound outlook on life.

Portrait of the artist as a battered wife.

Jan Troell’s ode to art therapy is the kind of old fashioned tale that we don’t much see anymore. Elegant in its simplicity, Everlasting Moments documents the emancipation of a working class family matriarch amid the centrifugal forces of the political, social and artistic developments of the early 20th century.

This biography of trail-blazing female photographer Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen) ruminates on the transformative effect of artistic expression, whereby glass plate negatives can freeze a moment in time, and make it a thing of magic sufficient to compensate for a bad marriage.

As Heiskanen plays her, Maria Larsson is a model of seething stoicism as she endeavours to raise her ever-expanding brood and restrain the worst excesses of her dockworker husband, Sigge (Mikael Persbrandt). She attempts to flee the abusive adulterer but is hamstrung by her father, a temperance society figurehead who prizes above all, the 'til death’ aspect of the marital vows (never mind her husband’s rejection of the 'forsaking all others’ bit). He refuses to provide refuge when she and the children up sticks in the middle of the night, and without independent means to support herself, Maria resigns herself to a life of systematic abuse and its consequent pregnancies.

Quite by accident, Maria discovers her natural flair for the embryonic medium of photography; she finds the Contessa camera she won in a lottery in a happier time, and is dissuaded from hawking it by a kindly commercial photographer, Pedersen (Jesper Christensen), a man whose enthusiasm for the artform is embodied in the catchphrase 'Piff Paff Puff!" (best explained as a Swedish hybrid of 'Say cheese!" and 'voila!"). Pedersen senses her curiosity and reluctance to sell the camera, and successfully convinces her to at least try out the camera before she parts with it.

He furnishes her with equipment and materials through a tailored form of store credit that both know she can never repay, and naturally, she develops a crush on the man who encourages her creativity (being the old-fashioned film this is, theirs remains an entirely modest flirtation).

Maria thrives under Pedersen’s tutelage, revealing knack for finding a kind of truth and nobility in everyday situations. As you would expect, the photography is superb, with the film taking on a kind of sepia tone as a nod to period detail.

Troell achieved international acclaim in the early 70s with his migration saga The Emigrants and its sequel, The New Land. The Oscar-nominated film encapsulated masterfully, the 19th century migrant experience of Swedes relocating to America, with the trip's requisite anticipation, hopes and hardships. Adapting to new circumstances remains a key theme in Everlasting Moments, with the troubled Larssons contending with turbulent industrial reform, social upheaval and the outbreak of World War 1. Maria experiences the push and pull of history through her lens, capturing the birth of Swedish Socialist movement, and the three Scandinavian Kings’ landmark 1914 declaration of absolute neutrality.

Heiskanen is excellent as the accidental artist, her stern exterior belying the creative force caged within. Persbrandt plays Sigge as a man being left behind by history, and Troell is bound by the dictates of biographical accuracy to be sure, but this sympathetic rendering of Sigge as an emasculated shell all-but forgives him a lifetime of abuse (especially a contrived end sequence).

While the technical details are excellent and the performances solid, there is a distance to the film which prevents it from being deeply profound, much like a staged photograph.

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1 hour 46 min
In Cinemas 12 August 2010,
Thu, 01/01/1970 - 20