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Blu-ray Review: Everlasting Moments (The Criterion Collection)

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The Film

Warm and lovely, Everlasting Moments is a late-career triumph for Swedish director Jan Troell, who first gained acclaim with his ’70s films The Emigrants and The New Land, both with Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann. Alternating between sepia-toned images that recall aged photographs and red-blasted darkroom scenes, the film is appropriately about the way photography transforms a woman’s life, but even more, it’s about allowing one’s inner self to transcend external limitations.

Set in Sweden in the early 20th century, Everlasting Moments tells the true story of Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen), a working class woman whose societal position seems utterly fixed. Maria is a plain woman. She works hard sewing and laundering and has a large family with husband Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt). He’s a drunk — loving in a bombastic way when he’s sober, but cruel when under the influence. He’s also a womanizer, barely trying to hide his multiple affairs from Maria.

Through it all, Maria remains faithful to her duties in a quiet way that resists turning into a kind of tortured martyrdom. She’s not hopeless, but she is resigned. Sigfrid loses his intermittent employment at the docks because of a workers’ strike, so Maria scrounges even harder. A camera — unused since she won it in a lottery years earlier — is perfect fodder for pawning, but when she takes it to a camera shop, the kindly owner Mr. Pedersen (Jesper Christensen) — who eventually comes to love her — convinces her to at least try it out.

As Maria begins to take photographs, a whole new world is opened up for her in which she is given a chance to see things differently. She has a gift — not technical expertise, but a way of seeing that translates well to photography.

Everlasting Moments isn’t as schematic as a simple plot summary makes it seem — woman’s life is bad, she discovers photography, woman’s life opens up to wondrous possibilities. The victories are small for Maria, whose life is beset with heartache, mostly at the hands of her increasingly violent husband. For Maria, her art doesn’t necessarily make her life better, but it does allow her to see it in a different way. She may not have a vast change on her societal environment, but her small steps to break free from the boundaries of class and gender roles totally transform her life.

Troell directs the film with a sure-handedness that translates to strikingly composed interior images and an irrepressible warmth for his characters — even the despicable Sigfrid. Voiceover narration from Maria’s eldest daughter, Maja (Callin Öhrvall), seems more a loyalty to the source material than a storytelling necessity, but Everlasting Moments makes nary a misstep.

The Blu-ray Disc

Everlasting Moments is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Shot on 16mm, the film often has a rough beauty to it, and the visual presentation translates that well with its very film-like quality. The sepia tint that persists throughout the film is given even and consistent consideration throughout. Because of that, the color tone is muted most of the time, but that doesn’t prevent some high-contrast shots — particularly several in snowfall — from standing out. The image does appear to show some minor edge enhancement occasionally, and the 16mm format is responsible for some very grainy images in a few lowlight shots, but it’s certainly nothing bothersome.

The audio is presented in a DTS-HD 5.1 track with strong, clear dialogue and score. The track uses the surrounds nicely in crowd scenes and some chaotic moments incidental to the storyline provide for some heft as well.

Special Features

This is a fairly skimpy disc for Criterion, with only three supplements along with the theatrical trailer. The highlight is an hour-long doc on Troell that traces his career using interviews with him. Exploring the real-life basis for the story is a too-short piece that features narration by Troell’s wife, Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell, who is a distant relative of Larsson. This featurette displays a number of photographs from the real Larsson as well. Rounding out the disc is a fairly standard making-of that runs about 30 minutes. The set also comes with an essay from notorious contrarian Armond White, who claimed Everlasting Moments as the best film of 2009.

The Bottom Line

Everlasting Moments represents another fine acquisition for Criterion in its deal with IFC Films, and continues its recent trend of adding more excellent contemporary films to the esteemed catalogue.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.