Everlasting Moments (2009 festival)
by George Watches Things
Today, we discuss the first film from our 2009 marathon, Everlasting Moments. I will spoil some elements, including the end, so steer clear until you see the film.
I knew hardly anything about Everlasting Moments when I picked it to go first in the parade of 2009 films we (or just I) will be seeing over the next many weeks. I had heard that Roger Ebert liked it and Criteron had already given it a release. That was enough, and I’m glad I did choose it, because as it currently stands, Everlasting Moments is among the best films I’ve seen from that year.
Maria Larsson, played perfectly by Maria Heiskanen, is a housewife who is nearly completely dependent upon her husband, Sigfrid, In a Better World‘s Mikael Persbrandt. She seems powerless in the house, as she is not the breadwinner, and he loses his sense of right and wrong when he drinks, and sometimes it stays lost when he doesn’t.
But, after hearing how it affects his family, and crying at a song sung by his children at a social gathering, Sigge decides to reform. For a couple of days.
The day after he beats his daughter, and our narrator, Maja, he gets into a fight with another man (in his own home) that leaves Maria with a swollen-shut eye. She goes to her father because she can no longer take Sigge’s nonsense, but her father tells her that once a couple is united under God, the bond cannot be broken. She must stay with Sigfrid.
The film goes from bleak to bleaker about marriage after Sigge cheats on Maria with a waitress in town.
Until… Maria discovers a camera she won long ago. This camera is one Maria and Sigge owned together once. One that, perhaps, brought them together. She goes to a local photo studio to get it priced, but the store owner, Mr. Pederson, played by a very subtle Jesper Christensen, encourages her to use it.
The fascination in her eyes as she sees her picture and how photography works in general is beautiful. Heiskanen is an easy sell, and she clearly knows what she’s doing with this character.
The movie does good by not making Sigfrid completely evil. He does bad things (and they get worse over time), but we can understand him and we can also understand why Maria still loves him.
And while he is cheating on her, Maria has another man of her own. They’ve never kissed or even spoken of such things, but she has an attachment to Mr. Pederson. She’s flustered when she sees him at a race, and even jealous when she sees him with a woman. This was a turning point in the film because it asked: “Are her feelings for him a result of the photography or is the photography an expression of her feelings for him?”
The first chapter of the film came to a close with a metaphor. One day, they take a family trip out on a carriage. Sigge is too incapacitated to be in charge, so Maria must take the reigns.
Everlasting Moments picks back up five whole years later. The Larsson family has moved to a new home, a few miles away from their old one. Maria has not been to the photo shop in that time.
But, one day, as Sigge is preparing to go into World War I, the need to use the camera she put away so long ago has returned. And she must now return to see Mr. Pederson.
Maria is a very strong woman. She’s not “as hard as a rock,” as Sigge suggests. She’s caring and gentle, but won’t stand any nonsense from Sigge anymore.
Maja is becoming a strong young woman, too, with the help of her mother. I loved the scene in which she and Maria must confront Maja’s employer and her brother’s advances. And Persbrandt, who scored a top 5 leading actor finish last year, is great and very unlikable (in the Pitt-in-Tree of Life way) in the scene that requires him to put Maja down as she confronts him. The little things he does were just as infuriating as the big things. Heiskanen plays Maria so well, especially in those scenes.
But nothing can top how empowered and strong she becomes in the two late scenes in which Sigge threatens her life. Maria brightens peoples’ days (see: the mother of the girl with down syndrome), while Sigge seems to try and darken hers. He tries to take her camera away, but she won’t have that. That camera is her happiness, and when Sigge endangers it, she calls his bluff when he threatens to kill her.
He simply dampens the mood when he walks into a room. After their second major fight, he is taken to jail (mirroring the first time he was taken to jail for allegedly blowing up a boat while on strike).
Everlasting Moments is careful and very real. It doesn’t force the action, but instead allows things to happen naturally and at a natural pace, allows real characters to have real reactions.
Her final choice, one that I won’t spoil, is one that made me wonder what the film was going for. In the end, I think Everlasting Moments is pro-family and pro-marriage, the way The Kids Are All Right is, even after all that goes down in the film.
It is also very pro-Maria. She passes too young, but she makes a lasting impact on both her husband and her children.
Are you “endowed with the gift of seeing” why this film is special, or is photography just not for you?