'Everlasting Moments' is lovely, quietly told

"Everlasting Moments." It is a remarkable film, unhurried and beautifully photographed: warm sepia images contrasted by stark winter scenes; a trolly car emerges out of the mist on a dark winter's night; a summer picnic, lush and green and blue; the harrowing shadow of an enormous zeppelin floating overhead, darkening the neighborhood; a young woman, on a bitterly cold day, enveloped by slanting sunlight, walks out onto the thin ice, only to disappear into the fog; the face of Maria Larsson, briefly caught in agony is transformed as she finds resolve. It's breathtaking and the anodyne to those blatant movies that signal the beginning of the blockbuster season.

From beginning to end, "Everlasting Moments" is Swedish director and cinematographer Jan Troell's film. Now 78, after 40 years of moviemaking, Troell has created a lovely, episodic, quietly told narrative set in the early 1900s.

Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen), Finnish, marries Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt) and moves to Malmo, Sweden. Just prior to her marriage she wins a Contessa folding camera in a lottery and rather than sell it, she puts it away in a keepsake trunk. Only years later — now with children, coping with Sigfrid's drunken episodes and abusive rages — does she remember the camera and takes it to a local studio to sell.

At the shop she meets Sebastian Pedersen (Jesper Christensen), proprietor, who encourages her to keep the camera and take pictures. Maria soon discovers that she has an eye. A new world is suddenly revealed and captured. Pedersen, looking at her pictures, tells her, "If you're a person who sees, you have no choice but to do so." The connection between them — her sensitivity and openness and his kindness and generosity — is palatable yet by unspoken agreement held in check.

And so, like an undeveloped print dropped into a tray of solution, "Everlasting Moments" comes into focus. Slowly. Deliberately. Evocatively. Through seemingly pedestrian moments, the picture is brought into unyielding relief. It is a gorgeous thing to behold, subtle, nuanced and deeply human.

The performances, led by Heiskanen and Persbrandt and Christensen, are so wonderfully rendered it becomes impossible to comprehend that they are acting. The verisimilitude of their circumstances is seamlessly convincing while Troell explores the resilience of love, the abrasive effect of resentment, even loathing, and the courage that is required of a woman who, constrained by the dictates of a narrow and fiercely judgmental world, manages to step forward and find herself.

What Troell asks of the audience is to look through his lens and find in the images a resonant and familiar reflection of the human condition. He asks us to see, gives us no choice, while never allowing sentiment or caricature to overwhelm the story. His film, therefore, has about it a fragile yet enduring honesty and is testimony to his ability to create a panoply of everlasting moments. This is film as art. It is the work of a master.

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