By Peter Knegt | Indiewire March 6, 2009 at 2:57AM
Over forty years after his directorial debut, Swedish director Jan Troell has found critical acclaim once again with his latest film, "Everlasting Moments."
Snubbed by the Academy (it was Sweden's submission in the foreign language film category), the IFC release has met its theatrical release with mostly glowing reviews. "There is sorrow and brutality in this film," said The New York Times' A.O. Scott, "but it is balanced by delicacy, humor and a sense of innocence that flirts with mawkishness. Any excursion into a lost world of childhood, whether it’s “Amarcord” or “The Secret Life of Bees,” risks sentimentalizing the past, but Mr. Troell, many of whose earlier films have also been historical dramas (most notably “The Emigrants” and “The New Land,” from the early ’70s), compensates with a sense of historical and psychological clarity..."
Set in early 1900s Sweden, a time of intense social change, war, and poverty, "Moments" follows Maria (played with "furious dignity by Maria Heiskanen," notes Scott), a working class woman who wins a camera in a raffle. She is persuaded not to sell it by Mr. Pedersen (Jesper Christensen), a Danish man who runs the local photography studio. Mr. Pedersen encourages Maria to take photos, much to the dismay of her husband, Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt), an alcoholic, womanizing brute.
"'Not everyone is endowed with the gift of seeing,'" Todd McCarthy's Variety review of the film quotes Mr. Pedersen. But McCarthy feels that "not only does Swedish director-writer-cinematographer Jan Troell possess this gift in overwhelming abundance, he has the talent to allow the viewer to see the souls of his characters and the salient details of the world they inhabit. Artistically on a plane with or near the vet filmmaker's best work, this period drama about a woman slowly discovering her metier is an artisanal creation par excellence that will be appreciated by discerning arthouse patrons worldwide."
The Hollywood Reporter's Michael Rechtshaffen uses the same Pedersen quote as an entry point to similar gushing. "Fortunately Troell and cinematographer Mischa Gavrjusjov are among the uniquely gifted," he says, "delivering an affecting film that manages to find glimmers of beauty the in the encroaching bleakness, and coaxing richly dimensional performances which, like Maria's photographs, transcend the conventionally black and white."
indieWIRE's own review, care of Michael Koresky, is not in agreement. While Koresky certainly enjoyed the film, calling it "a persuasive, delicately rendered image of early twentieth-century struggle," he found the cinematography heralded by McCarthy and Rechtshaffen problematic. "What might have made 'Everlasting Moments' a truly viable work of art (rather than above-average art-house fare) is if the cinematography had more reflected Maria’s visual mindscape," Koresky said. "For a film centered on still photography, 'Everlasting Moments' is surprisingly unwilling to linger on images. Despite its burnished, bronzed appearance, which takes on the tattered fade of old photos, and its evocative sets and costumes, which often appear caked with an inch of soot, Troell’s period piece remains observant rather than enveloping."
The flipside is represented by LA Weekly critic Ella Taylor, one of the very few to give "Moments" an overall mixed review. Taylor says the film "looks great," but criticizes its "sense of significance": "Lovely to look at but too slow and deliberate to get lost in, Jan Troell's 'Everlasting Moments' is a tribute to still photography filtered through a portrait of working-class life wracked by war and want in early 20th century Sweden. Written by Niklas Rådström from a story shaped by Troell and his wife Agneta about her ancestor Maria Larsson, a mother of seven who won a camera in a lottery and used it both to record and survive her harsh life, the movie is quietly absorbing for an hour, but never quite solves the problem of whether its subject is worth two."
Taylor is very much in the minority, as further proven by Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf who says the film "will stun you with simple pleasures: a naturally lit kitchen; a country dance captured austerely from a respectful distance. The drama starts in 1907, and to its absorbing credit, feels like it wasn’t made long thereafter"; and Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan, whose calls it "a rich, intensely human story that deals with the mysteries of creativity and love and the pain and joy of relationships."
directed by Jan Troell
131 minutes, presented in Swedish and Finnish