Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell’s “Everlasting Moments” is well-crafted, traditional storytelling. Let’s come out and admit it: This is a square, conventional movie where every shot means what it means, with scant ambiguity or artistic license. Surrender to its conservative technique, though, and you’ll be moved as well as entertained. Troell (best-known for 1971’s “The Emigrants”) understands the pleasures of an old-fashioned story effectively told.
It opens in 1907 as Maria (Maria Heiskanen) and Sigge Larsson (Mikael Persbrandt) spin through their wedding dance. She has recently won a Contessa glass-plate camera in a raffle; they joke that he married her to get his hands on the treasure. It is packed away forgotten while they begin their family. Sigge is a good father and loving husband on the rare occasions when he is sober. Maria chafes at Sigge’s brawling, cheating lapses, but perseveres in the marriage.
As social and political revolution churns in the background, the story becomes a struggle between 19th-century values and 20th-century freedoms. Maria yearns for some means of self-expression — she’s the only person who can see the beauty in icicles dangling from a chimney pipe — but feels her first responsibility is to her ever-expanding brood. When she brings the Contessa to the local portrait studio in hopes of selling it, kindly Mr. Pedersen (Jesper Christensen) notices her artistic eye and hands the camera back to her with film and developing chemicals free of charge. Pedersen encourages her work and helps her publish it.
The interiors are mostly drab, authentic-looking flats; many of the exterior scenes have the pale, skim-milk light of Northern Europe or a haze of heavy mist. There is not much around to delight the eye. No wonder Maria wants to capture and preserve beauty wherever she sees it. Filmed in a palette of subdued color like the sepia tones of an old photo, “Everlasting Moments” honors the past without cloying nostalgia.
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Even when it’s a struggle, this film says, life is worth celebrating. All it takes is the gift of seeing its beauty.