This review contains "spoilers", so for those to which this causes distress I offer fair warning.
There's a singular moment anyone who has ever held a camera recognizes, a moment of absolute clarity, a recognition that somehow seeing the world through those lens invites a different view than what our eyes initially present. A professional photographer can probably wax poetic about the virtues of image capture far better than I, but even a casual photographer can recognize the key to great photography is how the image is lit and framed. It's an innate talent some appear to be blessed with: the protagonist Maria Larsson of "Everlasting Moments" certainly was, along with this cinematographer of this beautifully shot 2008 Swedish film.
First, a word about the quality of the transfer. Considering this is a Criterion release, I expected the best, but on very rare occasions I've been a bit disappointed with their work. "Everlasting Moments" is filmed in something of a degraded color scheme which is closer to sepia tone than sharp color, no doubt an artistic decision on the part of the director. That said, the image on this Blu-Ray is extremely sharp and full of detail and texture, which is accompanied by a heavy sheen of grain. I was often impressed with the quality of this transfer, a transfer that highlights the beauty of the cinematography and remains faithful to the director's original intentions. I've not a single complaint in this department.
The essay booklet and supplementary material are notably quite substantial, a factor which makes the steep Criterion price tag worth it. The centerpiece of the four included special features is an hour long career retrospective on the work of director Jan Troell titled "Troell's Magic Mirror". The presentation is a bit pretentious at times, but can be easily overlooked with the abundance of information and interviews concerning a fascinating life and career. Were I forced to estimate, there's roughly forty five to fifty minutes of excellent viewing and about ten minutes of extraneous filler. The second feature is a half hour piece titled "Troell Behind the Camera". This functions as more of a "making of" special focusing on "Everlasting Moments". The third feature is a nine minute piece called "The True Story of Maria Larsson" featuring a voiceover by Troell's wife discussing the reality behind the drama along with some of Maria's photographs. The fourth and final feature is a two minute theatrical trailer.
"Everlasting Moments" focuses primarily on the rocky marriage between Maria and her husband, along with the struggles such a contentious relationship has on their numerous children. Sigfrid Larsson is a strong, handsome, talented man who doesn't shy away from a hard day's work. Unfortunately he's also a bitter, violent alcoholic and habitual womanizer. Maria Larsson, for her part, is reserved and demure - but not submissive. Upon discovering a long forgotten camera among her possessions, Maria takes it to the local photography studio to see if it needs repair and possibly sell it. The proprietor of the shop, Sebastian Pederson, immediately takes a liking to Maria and offers to eventually purchase the camera.
In the meantime, he allows her to keep it and use it, with the intention of deducting the cost of the supplies from the purchase price. Maria is a natural photographer, capable of capturing hauntingly beautiful images under the most austere circumstances. With the encouragement of Mr. Pederson her hobby becomes her escape mechanism from the struggles of everyday life, much as husband chooses to escape via excessive drinking. It's an interesting contrast.
Aside from the excellent premise, I must give special mention to the outstanding production values of the film, which enabled the general feel of an early twentieth century village to be captured in glorious detail. Anyone who has enjoyed the production design of films such as "My Left Foot", "Pelle the Conqueror", or the more recent "The White Ribbon" will surely marvel at the exemplary work of "Everlasting Moments".
Prior to viewing this film, one should know that the film remains almost entirely focused on Maria's family for the two hour duration. I've read a certain element of reviews, both professional and amateur, that complain that the film is too slowly paced and borderline uninteresting. I never found the film to be either, but I can understand some viewers may be put off by the great detail paid to the Brief Encounter-esque relationship between Maria and Mr. Pederson or the quite normal machinations of the family in general.
Indeed, I found the film to be rife with interesting diversions such as the detail paid to the odd jobs Sigfrid received over the years, including the harsh nature of the work and the apparently futile labor strikes. More than that, the film is so perfectly cast that it's quite easy to find oneself swept away by the interactions of the characters. Watching Maria's unbridled joy at noticing her photograph was printed in the newspaper is one of many moments very nearly guaranteed to make the viewer smile. By contrast, it's nearly unbearably sad when Sigfrid's friend Englund meets his end. None of which would be possible, of course, unless the characters engaged the viewer on an emotional level.
It's been suggested that "Everlasting Moments" makes some sort of feminist statement or carries a message of female empowerment. I found the tale rather contrary to that interpretation. If the film is explored by those terms I find it more of a love story than anything else, albeit a thoroughly unconventional one. Perhaps a "fractured fairy tale" for adults. We know Maria deeply loves Sigfrid, primarily because she remains with him despite his numerous and troublesome faults. This is particularly highlighted by her choice not to sell his prized horse while he was imprisoned, despite the desperately needed financial benefits of doing so, despite the fact that he often displayed a general indifference towards her feelings, and despite the fact that he often acted as a hindrance to her designs of being a photographer.
Some have misinterpreted the ending as too saccharine and therefore unrealistic, due to a perceived impression that Sigfrid suddenly alters his behavior from a bitter, violent alcoholic to a more stable, loving man. The ending, though, is what the viewer wishes to make of it. The family's fortunes may have changed, and there's that gloriously shot scene of Maria and Sigfrid joyously dancing, but Sigfrid may never have changed. The only certain element is that Maria stood by him. On that note, suffice it to say that while it's true "Everlasting Moments" is based on a true story, it's not a biopic in the strictest sense, and is closer to a fictional drama based on real events.
The lingering question most seem to be left with is why exactly did Maria stand by her husband? It could be a myriad of reasons. Perhaps it was due to her fear for her spiritual well-being, as her father had warned that no one should put asunder what God brought together. Perhaps it was because he was a hard worker, a good provider and he did, at least, care very much for his children. Perhaps on some level Maria was attracted to his mischievous nature, that for all the compassion and tenderness the Mr. Pedersons of the world have to offer, they cannot match the roguish charm of her husband. Or maybe, just maybe, it truly was love.