Magazine article The Spectator

Swedish Idyll

Magazine article The Spectator

Swedish Idyll

Article excerpt

Everlasting Moments 15, Key Cities

Awaydays 18, Nationwide

Oh, what heaven, what joy, and if you don't bother to see Everlasting Moments, then you are a bigger fool than I thought you were. (If it were possible. ) It's a Swedish period drama, set around 1900, and is full of simple yet rich, old-fashioned pleasures and not a single action sequence bar a hat blowing off at one point. Still, I don't think it was CGI.

Directed by Jan Troell (most famous for 1971's triple-Oscar-nominated The Emigrants), it is based on the true life story of one of his wife's relatives, Maria Larsson (played with exquisite dignity by Maria Heiskanen), a poor, working-class belaboured mother of seven with a drunken brute for a husband whom she can never quite bring herself to leave. However, she does find some independence - intellectual and emotional - through the camera she wins in a lottery, and her subsequent friendship with the local photographer, Mr Pederson (Jesper Christensen), who initially shows her how photography works by training a moth's shadow on to her hand. This is just one of the beautiful images in this beautifully imaged film.

Actually, it is one of those films in which nothing very much happens, but is full of character and incident all the same. It's a life - just a life - but Maria is so empathetic and portrayed with such love that we are as immersed in that life as she is.

Her triumphs are our triumphs, just as her adversities are our adversities, and her aesthetic awakening is handled so delicately it never feels cliched or stilted. It's unhurried, by which I mean slow, I suppose, but it's so deftly unhurried you never feel as if you want it to get its skates on. Plus, the pace allows characters to be more than one thing, to emerge as complex. The husband, Sigge (Mikael Persbrandt), for example, is allowed flashes of decency and bravery and affection, suggesting he may be as trapped by his alcoholism and brutishness as she is.

The film is meticulously illuminated, and meticulously composed, which may be only fitting, considering photography has such a central role, and it's as epic as it is intimate, with events playing out against various backdrops that include the socialist revolution, The Great War, Swedish emigration to America and the advent of new technologies like cinema and domestic electricity but not flat-packed furniture, which did not arrive to torment us until the 1950s. …

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