When Maria wins a camera in a lottery, the man who bought the ticket for her claims an equal share of the prize. She acquiesces, but only if he marries her.
So begins the story of this ill-fated marriage, narrated by Maja, the first daughter of their union. It begins in 1907, in the Swedish port town of Malmo, birthplace of director Jan Troell, director of the masterful duology of Swedish emigration to the United States, “The Emigrants” and “The New Land.” It is a true story, based on the life of Maria Larsson, one of Sweden’s first female photographers.
“Everlasting Moments” both is a tribute to Larsson — a relative of the director’s wife, Jan (author of the original story) — and a love letter to the art of photography. Troell, sharing cinematography credit with Mischa Gavrjusjov, does a crafty job of finding photographic images within the larger frame: a figure in a mirror, icicles on an eave and, in the film’s most unearthly moment, a little girl disappearing into the mist as she walks to her death across a frozen sea.
Maria and Sigfrid Larsson begin their life together in comfortable poverty, their wooden house softened by the many fabrics she has on hand for her sewing business. The comfort is short-lived. Sigfrid is a dockworker given to drunkenness, visiting prostitutes and beating his wife and children. He loses his job after being accused of dynamiting a British ship carrying scab labor during a strike. His sordid, bullying manner contrasts with Maria’s gentle emergence as an artist, who discovers a new way of seeing the world when she looks through the lens of a camera.
The second part of the film begins in 1914, with the family moving to another town, where Sigfrid finds steady work in the chalk pits. He gladly leaves this behind to go to war, where he gorges himself on the best food he has ever tasted and never gets near the enemy. When he returns from the war, he expects to be treated as a conquering hero. When he is not, he begins to suspect a love affair between his wife and the photographer who has mentored and encouraged her, and nearly murders her.
Those who question the Protestant morality that prevents Maria from leaving her abusive husband may reject the inner optimism that gives her miserable circumstances such an infusion of joy. But “Everlasting Moments” targets deeper concerns than the outcome of a marital rupture. Troell’s profound insistence that life — even in its most miserable chapters — is an occasion for rejoicing, goes beyond gender politics to a place of transcendent sublimity.