Set in fin-de-siècle Sweden, Jan Troell’s Everlasting Moments locates itself between the traditional values of the previous century and the imminent arrival of the modern age — both of which are embodied in the life of one tough working-class heroine. Facing a bleak future with an alcoholic husband and a growing brood of children, this steadfastly faithful matriarch stumbles into the role of an artist when she begins using a camera she won in a lottery. As she discovers within her the heart of an entrepreneur and community documentarian, she also manages to lose her heart to another local photographer who recognizes her talent.
For a film that celebrates the pleasures of picture-taking, it’s appropriate that every frame appears to have been composed as a tribute to the art of cinematography. Suffused with subtle beauty and tiny astonishments — a moth dancing on a windowpane, faces floating in a darkroom bath — each image looks as though it could fade at any moment into the sepia tones of an old photograph. Even when the action feels closed off inside a series of drab interiors, the rooms are always artfully lit, often with the irrepressible sunlight pushing through a drawn curtain.
Unfortunately, this stunning visual achievement will likely be taken for granted as a mark of award-baiting “quality” cinema, and perhaps, in the end, for good reason: this film is embalmed in the colors and textures of overly reverent nostalgia, an effect that renders authentic emotion an afterthought. Maria Heiskanen’s admirable lead performance delays our realization that the people surrounding her are all predictable character types. Even worse, Troell wants us to get misty-eyed about the protagonist’s commitment to a marriage that never proves anything but abusive, which is exactly the kind of absurd allowance artists make when they imagine the past as an unsmudgeable Kodak moment.