Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick
Sweden/Denmark/Norway/Finland/Germany, 2008. Blind Spot Pictures Oy, Filmpool Nord, Final Cut Productions, Götafilm, Motlys, Schneider & Groos. Story by Jan Troell, Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell, Screenplay by Niklas Rådström, based on the memoirs of Maja Öman. Cinematography by Mischa Gavrjusjov, Jan Troell. Produced by Tero Kaukomaa, Christer Nilson, Thomas Stenderup. Music by Matti Bye. Production Design by Peter Bävman. Costume Design by Karen Fabritius Gram, Katja Watkins. Film Editing by Nils Pagh Andersen, Jan Troell.
The life and work of Maria Larsson, an early twentieth century photographer, is the subject of this affectionate and deeply pleasurable film by Jan Troell, who moves through the sweeping narrative with the same command of brief but potent scenes of family life that graced his breakthrough epics The Emigrants and The New Land. The voice of Larsson’s adult daughter narrates her memories of growing up with a woman who struggles to keep her children (four in the beginning, seven by the end) clothed and fed while dealing with her manual laborer husband Sigge (Mikael Persbrandt), who frequently abandons his promise to stop drinking and becomes irresponsible and violent when on the bottle.
While cleaning her cupboards, Larsson (played with steely sensitivity by a great Maria Heiskanen) finds a camera that she and her husband won years earlier with a lottery ticket when they first met. Taking it to a photographic store to see if she can get any money for it, Maria is instead given tips by the kindly man who runs the studio (played by Jesper Christensen) on how to use it. She begins to photograph scenes from life in her tiny tenement and her surrounding neighbourhood, which turns into a small business when neighbours begin asking for photographs of their important occasions (both happy and tragic), but she can never make a steady career of it when new babies and her husband’s jealous rages cause her to put her camera away for long periods of time.
The posterity of photography, the ability to capture a moment and make it last forever, is a significant gift that Larsson gives to the people around her and, even more, allows her an outlet from a life that never gets easier; one attempt to leave Sigge fails and, after that, she abides his rages and infidelities, gradually learning to stand up for her own bit of space the more her artistic expression gives her a sense of self.
Shot to look like a faded photograph in tones rich with sepia, this loving portrait of the best and worst moments of a real-life Swedish folk artist is deeply touching and devoid of excess sentimentality, with Troell gently portraying the sorrows of two people who cannot escape the misery they share because of a deeper and more significant bond.
The Criterion Collection: #520
Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film
Toronto International Film Festival: 2008