This film is based on a true story, but you’ve never heard of the woman photographer Maria Larsson, whose life it describes. She is not an historic photographer now forgotten, but an ancestor of screenwriter Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell, who discovered her accidentally while doing family research. So it’s logical though ironic that despite the movie’s title, those everlasting moments frozen in photographs have remained such for her family only, hidden and almost forgotten in a drawer. It’s a story about the fragile power of photography to preserve life as well as to take over one’s life, but it’s first of all a statement about women artists.
So, Maria Larsson is the wife of an alcoholic, abusive dockworker in a poor Stockholm neighborhood, in the socially unrestful early 20th century. She wins a Contessa view camera in a lottery, but instead of selling it to cover her husband’s drinking debts, she decides to actually use it instead, encouraged by the photographic studio owner to whom she intended to sell it. And as it turns out, she has real talent, discovers through the lens a world she never thought existed and eventually is even offered a good, middle class, professional job as the photographer’s assistant.
You would think this movie is the familiar plot in which a woman finds her talent and uses it to grow as a person, achieve independence and social advancement? Photography gives her creative joy, a personal connection with a mentor who values her, social recognition, a way out of poverty. Yet she turns down that job because she has to take care of her children. She almost abandons photography because of her womanizing husband’s jealousy. The decisive moment of detachment comes when she realizes that her passion for her art has engulfed her to the point that she now gives it a priority – gasp! – almost as high as she gives her growing children. So she is denied even the possibility to seek solace in photography. All the classic obstacles for women artists, or for women with any kind of professional ambitions for that matter, in just one movie.
Yet somehow you are not angry with her, not even when she visits her husband in jail for trying to kill her or when she decides to stay with him, on the life path he has chosen for her. You are not outraged by the movie’s justification of her decision that “maybe it’s just love”. Perhaps because Everlasting Moments is so beautiful visually that is able to channel your anxiety into “this is how life was”. Viewers are enthralled by the sepia tones, the golden light and the ethereal family scenes it presents, remembering that they belong to a different era and a private point of view. Even though the time period gave Maria lots of social material and political events to preserve on film, the most captivating images are those of her neighbor’s dead daughter, the cat on a windowsill, family portraits. In other words, those quintessential feminine photo subjects, the way they looked a hundred years ago captured by a mom with a camera.
It’s ironic, again, that the last picture Maria takes is a self-portrait. Was that a final confirmation that she had found her true mission? Or an attempt at a revision of her life? Maybe. In any case, I noticed that the pictures of her included in the movie show her to be more beautiful than in movie’s everyday life. It’s a pity, and again ironic, that her actual photographs were so forgotten before the movie brought them to life.
Ah, and these words of hers are what I took away for myself from the movie: “One can choose what to see.” Indeed, choose what to see, but try not to lie to yourself.