Inspired by the life of his wife's great-aunt, Everlasting Moments
plays like Jan Troell's loveletter to family values. Only slight
emotionally dysfunction required to relate. Maria, a young Finnish
woman, is swept off her feet by the charming Sigge, whose zest for life
(and respect for his wife) is quickly ground into dust through the
trials of having to support a rapidly growing family as a low-wage
dockworker. He descends into full-blown alcoholism, chronic infidelity
and violent outbursts that leave his family reeling from embarrassment
and uncertainty. With her husband in and out of jail and work and her
extended family unsympathetic, Maria is left to raise her children and
find small pleasures in their grueling life. She rediscovers a camera
won in a raffle and is convinced by a flirtatious camera shop owner to
keep and use it as a means of expression.
Troell deftly illustrates the quiet dignity of human kindness with a mercifully light hand. In one scene Maria asks her eldest daughter to prepare a dead pigeon for dinner. Maja is a thoughtful, but sensitive adolescent. She protests, "They have such beautiful eyes, Mama. It's staring at me..." A situation we've seen in turn of the century, desperately poverty-stricken stories before and viewers have been trained to expect a blow up. Yet Maria's reaction is to quietly dismiss her daughter from the gruesome duty. It comes as an enormous relief because it feels like what a mother would actually do, an attempt to preserve what little innocence she can in her child for as long as she can. We see this theme echoed in scene after scene. As we get to know Maria it's inspiring to see a great nephew-in-law pay such loving homage to a woman whose existence was so much about the utility of life.
of the utility of life, Everlasting Moments was made for $7 million, a
sum that couldn't even get Jessica Alba into your movie in the States.
This film, however, is an exquisitely rendered period piece. It spans
more than twenty years and looks like it could have easily cost ten
Everlasting Moments is 78 year old Jan Troell's contribution to the unofficial alliance of Medicaid-qualifying working film directors. That class, that this year alone, boasts Andrej Wajda, Agnes Varda, Woody Allen, Manoel de Oliveira and Clint Eastwood's one-two punch of The Changeling and Gran Torino. Plus last year contributed wonderful new efforts by Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Errol Morris and Claude Chabrol. Some of these recent films haven't been perfect but they all lack the cloying self-consciousness that comes from too much exposure to the internet. Perhaps it's time the AARP started hosting its own awards ceremony?
RIYL: After the Wedding, The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio, 16 Years of Alcohol.
- Martha Polk's (appropriately) effusive review over at What Is This Light and thoughts on photography at The Auters Notebook.
- The Danish Film Institute's interview with the film's producer Thomas Stenderup.
Beaches of Agnes joins the ranks of recent films like Of Time and the
City and My Winnipeg (and to a lesser extent Waltz with Bashir and
Hunger), memoir-style films. The genre of late has been focused on a
connection to a place and how that place has shaped a person's life. In
contrast to focusing on the time the film-maker chooses to stop
experiencing life and start reflecting on the past with some sense of
Starting with her birth in wartime Brussels (just like Jean-Claude Van Damme!) Agnes Varda traces her extensive film-making career in the French New Wave scene. Detours through Los Angeles during the 60s and back again to France as her husband Jacques Demy died a slow, ineffable death from AIDS. Varda fans will recognize the (miraculously unchanged) settings her past films: the village scenes from La Pointe Courte, the woods-y picnic spots from Le Bonheur, the barren off-season vineyards from Vagabond and the Parisian open-air markets from Cleo 5 to 7 and The Gleaners and I.
Varda's charming narration and bohemian life story are their own reward. Former collaborators like Harrison Ford, Gerard Depardieu, Jane Birkin and Alexander Calder all participate but never as mere talking heads. Birkin, in a full suit of armor, rides a horse down a Paris street playing a modern Joan of Ark. Jim Morrison and Chris Marker also make appearances respectively through archival footage and cardboard cut outs of the artist's signature cat illustrations.
This is remarkable documentation of a remarkable life. Fans of Varda's films who have never had the privilege of seeing her installation work clearly realize that her true heart is in being a visual artist. The film opens with a group of harried assistants trying to find ways to prop up dozens of mirrors in the sand on the beach while Varda walks through them introducing herself to the camera. In another scene she tracks down the villagers whose playful rowboat scenes as children brought some levity to the story of a fracturing marriage in her first feature film, La Pointe Courte. They remember the experience fondly and the town has named a street after her. She convinces the now middle-aged men to push a cart around the town projecting films onto a sheet while discussing the man on the screen who has long since passed away. It's a depiction of how an artist, even one who's made an indelible mark in her field, can still feel like a culmination of her shortcomings. The feeling is playful but honest, a combination I, as a total neophyte, rarely associate with contemporary art.
RIYL: Rivers and Tides, Basquiat, Fellini: I'm a Born Liar, Manufactured Landscapes, Persepolis.
The first Bosnian film to win the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film
Festival's International Critics Week focuses on six women living in a
small village one year after the war has ended. All of the men
(including male children) have been rounded up and killed by the
Serbian army. The surviving women work hard to keep the village's only
industry, jam and sauerkraut production operational. It's grueling work
to create a delicate product that the women then transport in handcarts
through rough mountainous paths to sell on the roadside. We see the
women raise the orphaned children left behind all the while trying to
keep each other's spirits up with games and craft projects but the fact
remains, the only commonality they have is that their former middle
classic lives have been transformed by tragedy. Each of them still
holds out secret hope their husbands, sons and fathers somehow survived
and will someday return. When two Serbian businessmen representing a
commercial real estate developer show up with an offer to buy their
land each woman is forced to re-examine the reality of her situation
and what her priorities moving forward will be.
Like many of the wonderful documentaries from this area (some of which my company, A Million Movies a Min ute distributes), the film contrasts of the breathtaking beauty of this area with the horrendous things its people have endured. At the start, the somewhat self-conscious diversity of the group threatens to be something akin to a Slavic United Colors of Benneton ad: a Muslim, a Christian, a bawdy dame, a thrill-seeking younger woman, an elderly woman who spends her time working the loom and a demanding, bed-ridden mother-in-law. But director Aida Begić let's their stories unfold naturally. The film never condescends to think an audience will understand their situation by the end of the film.
Portland International Film Festival also featured works
this year from Poland's Andrzej Wajda and Sweden's Jan Troell two film
directors who have resisted the siren call of Hollywood and dedicated
their massive talents to reflect upon each of their country's complex
histories. That the exquisite Snow and Jasmila Zbanic's powerful 2006
film Grbavica: Land of My Dreams were both directorial debuts from
Bosnia-Herzegovenia indicates both an exciting new chapter in
film-making at large and what Cintra Wilson calls 'the cultural
conversation', providing a voice to a group of people who have mostly
been spoken for in the past.
RIYL: Secret Life of Words, Backstage, I've Loved You So Long, No Man's Land.