Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Everlasting Moments

"That which we cannot forget" is how Swedish Director Jan Troell translated Everlasting Moments/Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick, the title of his film that is entered in the main competition for the Chicago International Film Festival.

Foreign films often provide an unrivaled depth in the characters they introduce to us. Troell intersperses brief scenes with film stocks that lend a gritty, authentic feel to the life of Maria Larssons (Maria Heiskanen). The director was present along with about 50 attendees for the Tuesday afternoon screening of his film at the AMC on 600 N. Michigan Ave.

The story is based on the real life of Maria Larssons. Troell's wife met the Larssons' daughter and recorded their conversations during the last six years of Larssons' life. Troell turned those tapes into the book of the same name, which has yet to be translated into English and unlikely will be.

Set in the early 1900s, the film starts with credits over images of vintage cameras. We learn through a voice-over that Maria won a camera at a fair, but the man she was with bought the winning ticket. He insists the only way that she will get the camera is if she married him. So begins Maria's life with Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt).

While the pacing and story development are much more lethargic than American cinema, we eventually learn of the abusive and alcoholic ways of Sigfrid. With an ever-growing family, Maria comes across the camera from the fair in the bottom of a dresser. Desperately in need of money, Maria attempts to pawn the camera. In the process, she meets the gentle store owner Mr. Petersson (Jesper Christensen), who encourages her to take a few photos before selling the camera. Arranging her children in their cramped living area, Maria snaps her first photo of her children.

The film continues to follow Maria and her family as she turns increasingly to the solace provided by her camera. Everlasting Moments diverges from the predictable cinematic addiction to the Hollywood narrative and ending. She often is subtly presented with choices that would allow her to rid herself of her abusive husband and her negotiating those decisions provides complexity. Maria constantly grapples with her pride and independence. Instead of everything being neatly wrapped-up in 90 minutes, Moments (125 minutes) lingers with characters allowing for more development and depth, subsequently creating more empathy and attachment to Maria and her children. Despite Sigfrid's philandering and repeated abusive rampages toward Maria, at times eliciting gasps and winces from the audience, he is shown with some tenderness toward the end of the film.

In the post-film discussion Troell responded to a question regarding shots of a butterfly, which are present near the beginning and very end of the feature. He acknowledged the symbolism of the fluttering insect that is finally free at the end and mentioned his previous use of the bug in another film, Il Capitano. When he was working on this film, he noticed a dead butterfly in the window of the factory where he was shooting. Even though this image was not in the script or planning, Troell got a shot of the dead butterfly as it perfectly illustrated the potential future of the young boy in the film had he never left the factory.

Troell also mentioned the difference between making a film in Sweden and in the U.S. to the few dozen that remained after the screening. "Here you have maybe 100 people behind the camera. If I make a film in Sweden there's maybe 20, at most."

Like many foreign films that expose life through a different lens, Everlasting Moments/Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick lingers long after the final credits and is a difficult film to forget.

The film festival runs through Oct. 29 and I have a large list of films to see including several from France.
...Go on