When Maria (Heiskanen) wins a camera in a raffle she doesn’t think too much about it. After all, it’s the early 1900s, times are hard in the suburb of Stockholm where she lives, and with six children and a borderline alcoholic husband, Sigfrid (Persbrand), life is complicated enough. Then one day Maria happens across the camera and realising it may be worth something, takes it to a photographic studio to sell it so the family can eat. The owner of the studio, photographer Sebastian (Christensen), tells her to keep it and gives her the film and developing materials she needs to make her own photographs.
Over the next few months, Maria secretly begins to take photographs and slowly builds up a reputation as something of a talent, thanks largely to encouragement from Sebastian. As her husband continues to drink and philander on a regular basis, she takes solace in her new passion, especially when he is conscripted to serve in the war. On his return, he soon slips back into his old ways and after drunkenly assaulting and threatening to kill her, is jailed. Meanwhile, Maria is becoming more and more emotionally involved with Sebastian and reaches a crossroads in her life.
In the right hands, even the most unpromising premise can be turned into cinematic gold and this is the case with Everlasting Moments. Veteran Swedish director Jan Troell tells the story at a thoughtful pace and while the plot doesn’t exactly rattle along, something which might alienate the more impatient viewer, the characterisation is so beautifully drawn that it’s almost impossible not to get involved with the protagonists and in particular Maria. This is a story, based on true events, about family and specifically a woman’s role in the family in this difficult era, a time of social change and unrest. Crucially though, and this is one the film’s many strengths, it never strays into sentimentality.
While the heart of Everlasting Moments is about Maria and her relationships, it is fitting that a film at least superficially about photography is beautifully shot. Troell takes as much care framing his shots as Maria does and the effect is quietly stunning, especially one involving a dead friend of the family. There are also some wonderful if brief scenes of Swedish rural life which seem to effortlessly capture the mood of summer and with it some fleeting moments of joy and levity in what is at times a gruelling watch. Beautifully observed and crafted with great art and subtlety, this is a moving and fascinating tale.