jan troell's films (the emigrants, the new land, flight of the eagle, hamsun) stick in one's memory like souvenirs, not as drama. nature and human nature are troell's themes-most famously displayed in the 1970s two-part saga the emigrants and the new land, which portrayed the fierce ambitions and hard struggles of the first swedish settlers in the united states. as they traveled across the ocean, then the continent, troell filmed the past with the immediacy of the present. that gift is also on view in troell's newest film, everlasting moments.
that kodak-y title reference is appropriate. troell's story of a working-class family in 1907 sweden feels as visually familiar and emotionally haunting as family photographs. marriage for maria and siggi (maria heiskanen and mikael persbrandt) began with an odessa box-and-bellows camera won on their first date. as they raise children and strive to make a living, their affection undergoes phases of loyalty, betrayal and endurance. basic female and male preoccupations come into play. siggi drinks and cheats, maria sustains the household-a classic tale of marriage and family life.
don't mistake this for scenes from a marriage banality. it's through troell's sense of the landscape and seasons and his attention to gender sensibilities that everlasting moments represents the height of filmmaking technology and emotional sophistication. lars von trier, david fincher and p.t. anderson will never make a movie as impressive or as trenchant. a simple scene of maria scrubbing sigge's large back-rinsing dirt off his mounds of muscle-is a startlingly intimate and complex indication of marital bliss and struggle. terence malick might show this delicacy if he dared try a conventional narrative.
because troell is a consummate auteur-he directs, writes, shoots and edits himself-all scenes, whether large (maria publicly taking siggi back after he is released from jail) or small (glances among their confused children during parental spats) are accomplished swiftly and with nuance. details such as siggi playing accordion while entertaining the children with his tattoos (the father's body as the source of entertainment) have the precise detail of novel descriptions. yet this is the purest cinema. troell's imagery complements what the story gradually reveals as maria's stabilizing skill: she is told, "not everyone is endowed with the gift of seeing" by pedersen (jesper christensen), a local photographer who teaches her how to use the odessa.
"you see what you want to see," pederson instructs maria and moviegoers lucky enough to attend everlasting moments will have the elating experience of re-learning to look at movies as an art preserving nature and human nature. assisted by mischa gavrjusjov, troell crafts a genuine sepia vision in kind with story's period lighting; this artifice is so masterfully subtle that it never contradicts realism. troell achieves audacious effects such as vermeer-style halation and a silent movie homage (maria and the children are introduced to cinema at a chaplin film) that sets the tone for one character's farewell.
maria's talent is also her salvation. troell revisits the rocky marriage theme of his best american film zandy's bride. heiskanen deftly shows the restraint and forgiveness maria cannot verbalize and persbrandt gives charismatic force to siggi's emotions. it's a feminist-informed version of i remember mama by a filmmaker whose artistry captures spontaneous beauty like siggi's pieta with co-worker or a child's face flattened against a window while spying a corpse-unforgettable moments. fearing the independence her talent affords, maria worries "it turns me into another person. i forget i am a mother. it's like the pictures take over." it's been a long time since pictures took over a movie (téchiné's the witnesses was the last). that definition of cinema is rare, and jan troell is the rare artist to achieve it. -- everlasting moments directed by jan troell at lincoln plaza cinemas and landmark sunshine cinema running time: 131 min.