| The decision to keep a camera won in a lottery changes forever the life of a working class woman.
Writer-director Jan Troell (“The Emigrants” and “The New Land”) brings to the screen a true story based on the life of Maria Larsson, one of Sweden’s first female photographers. Troell is tied with Ingmar Bergman for the most Oscar nominations from the country of Sweden. This movie was Sweden’s official Oscar submission in the Best Foreign Language Film category. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe.
The original story came from Troell’s wife, Agneta, who is the granddaughter of this matriarchal woman fiercely devoted to her immediate family.
The man who bought the winning lottery ticket for Maria is Sigfrid. They had only known each other for a week. She agreed to share the prize on the condition that he marries her. The story of their ill-fated lifelong marriage is narrated by Maja, the first of seven children from their union.
The first half of the movie set from 1907 to 1909 takes place in the port town of Maimo. It follows the domestic life of this family. Sigfrid (more often referred to as Sigge) is a very strong dock worker who always breaks his vow to Maria to stop drinking. He is often cited for public intoxication.
Maria takes in washing, cleans houses and takes pride in sewing garments with her second-hand sewing machine. They have four children and Maria is expecting a fifth baby.
The workers go on strike and the poverty mounts. Maria finds the camera in a closet and takes it to a photography studio. She views it as a luxury that she cannot afford to keep. She wants to sell it and asks the studio owner, Sebastian Pedersen, how much it is worth.
He takes her picture with the camera outside the store and shows her how to use it. She decides to keep it and develops an artistic passion that gives her a new vision with which to see the world. Her bleak existence is brightened by a joyful and optimistic outlook on life stemming from the precious “everlasting moments” captured by her camera.
Despite her husband’s adulterous and physically abusive behavior, Maria holds steadfast to her Protestant belief that marriage is forever.
The second half of the movie takes place five years later beginning in 1914. The family moves to a nearby town and Sigge finds permanent employment in the chalk pits. He is then called into military service for World War I.
Maria takes her camera out again and one of her photos gets in the newspaper. She opens her own studio and has a clientele willing to pay for her services. The unconditional love for her children and the responsibilities of motherhood come first, but her passion for photography never wavers.
This movie is worthy of your admiration as the character of Maria earns your respect. Finnish actress Maria Heiskanen gives a superb performance in the lead role. The splendid cinematography, glorious musical score and period costumes are strengths.
The movie proceeds at a slow and deliberate pace to match the rhythms of everyday life. This emotionally tender story of hope leaves an indelible impression. It is not only a biography, but also a loving celluloid tribute to the art of photography.
The dialogue is in Swedish and Finnish with English subtitles. Opening exclusively at the Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"