Jan Troell's latest film, Everlasting Moments (not rated), follows a young Swedish woman in the early 20th century who struggles to make a life for her family despite her husband's philandering and bouts of drunkenness. In the process of raising her seven children, Maria Larsson cultivates a fascination with photography.
The film is based on the real-life story of the grandmother of Troell's wife. Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen) marries her husband Sigge (Mikael Persbrandt) young, but soon finds to her dismay (and to the disappointment of her temperance society friends) that Sigge has a drinking problem.
Burdened with raising a large family on her husband's unsteady income, Maria fluctuates through desperation and survival instincts. But when she tries to pawn the camera that she won in a lottery before she was married, the shop owner (Hans Henrik Clemensen) convinces her to try it out first, and a love of photography is born.
Maria is surprised to learn that she has some skill with the camera, and the relative obscurity of such gadgetry in her town makes her services sought after. Heiskanen impressively navigates the life of this woman, silently mastering so much wrought emotion with subtle facial movements.
Like Maria, Troell has an eye for small details. The film's slow pacing is made up for by its beautifully rendered scenes and well-framed shots. While some moments creak under the weight of excessive violence or the morbidity of Maria's life, every so often sunlight shines into her life.
Most interesting is the fact that the story of Maria and Sigge Larsson is pieced together by their daughter Maja (Callin Öhrvall). And as much as Maja experienced the turmoil of their relationship, she cannot quite grasp the machinery that makes her parents' marriage tick.
That unspoken connection gives the film more nuance than it could otherwise have mastered. As Maria's fascination with art grows over the years, she morphs from a distraught housewife to a self-possessed artist with her little camera. Watching that process develop deploys the same satisfaction that she gets time and again seeing her photographs come to life.