A montage of blinking shutters, lenses, gears clicking metal on metal, nuts and bolts – all of the guts of a camera – opens Swedish director Jan Troell’s newest film Everlasting Moments. In our current digital, instant age, where we snap “candid” poses with our iPhones and upload images straight to Twitter and Facebook, this particularly archaic imagery feels achingly nostalgic. The objects are almost foreign, at the very least forgotten.
Just as “forgotten” in this unholy marriage of electronics and photography is what Henri Cartier-Bresson called “the moment of intention” – the split seconds that pass between conceptualizing the image in the photographer’s head, the button on the camera being pressed and the delay between human and machine. What is truly meant to be captured, Bresson would argue, never really materializes. That lag between man and machine, the space in between intention and execution is what Troell captures deftly in his film, a subtly feminist fairy tale set the early 20th century.
Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen), according to the narration provided by a grown daughter in the film’s first moments, won a camera and a husband, Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt), on the same day in a raffle. Though both the husband and the camera will forever change her life, only one will be for the better. “You see what you want to see”, claims the narrator, and this sentiment is true for both Maria the burgeoning artist and shutterbug, as well as for Maria the put-upon wife and mother. Lest you think that Everlasting Moments is some kind of rose-colored rumination on motherhood and the discovery of passions, or a navel-gazing account of a simple love of the photographic medium, Troell immediately introduces an element of brutality and frankness amidst the amber-hued, antiqued treatment that feels both old and glowing (Criterion’s transfer of the IFC print is exceptional, and each color and detail is immaculate).
As he proved with his earlier cross-over successes in the ‘70s, The Emigrants and The New Land (Previously available only on Criterion’s laserdiscs, The Emigrants and The New Land feel ripe for a repackaging and are currently unavailable to R1 DVD), Troell has an eye for architectural detail and symmetry in the every day very much like Cartier-Bresson’s and film director Alexander Korda’s. The director is unflinching in his depiction of the hard-scrabble lives of the poor, struggling, starving working class and of a unique array of women, who were considered invisible at the time. In his older films and in this new one, Troell again proves to be at ease with both the epic nature of this story, as well as the finer details.
Nominated for The Emigrants against his fellow countryman Ingmar Bergman (Cries and Whispers) for 1972’s Best Director Academy Award (the only time two Swedish-language auteurs have ever faced off against one another in the category), Troell can be favorably compared to another film director who works impactfully, yet infrequently: Terrence Malick. Malick, like Troell, has a dreamily poetic, cinematic way of looking at the themes of passion, discovery, technology, and Darwinian nature. The critical essay, provided by the New York Press’ (usually) contraversial Armond White goes into detail about Troell’s body of work but lacks any real vigor or insight beyond the themes the director used across his 14 films and feels rather perfunctory. Other special features on Disc Two include two comprehesive documentaries on Troell’s career and a collection of Larsson’s photographs, which somewhat makes up for the benign musings by White.
Everlasting Moments is full to the brim with striking images. The trolley cutting through the city streets on a snowy, foggy night; the way Maria smiles and relaxes whenever she holds her camera; and the silhouetted moth projected onto her palm in the photo shop beautifully, simply illustrate that this is a film not necessarily about history or family, but about the birth of an artist and how that very word – artist – can embody so many different definitions and takes many forms. Everlasting Moments skillfully blends all of these themes and captures a bittersweet mix of light and dark, violence and romance, old and new. The film is about loving images and surrenduring to them, but it is also about the moment in which one woman discovers her purpose. It is about one brave woman’s “moment of intention” and what she sees, unfettered by gender, class and age.