Before Maria (stalwart Maria Heiskanen) married and bore the first five of her seven children, she won a camera in a raffle. Because he paid for the ticket, her beau thinks the camera should be his. They settle the argument by getting married and sharing the object that will come between them and also bring them together.
So we are told by her daughter, Maja, who narrates the film, which is sympathetic to her stoic mother and less so to her strapping and sodden father, Sigge (Mikael Persbrandt), a manual laborer of violent temper, quick fists, and an appetite for more than he can digest.
Stowed away for years in a bureau, the camera does not immediately figure into Maria's life. She doesn't even know how it works. By 1907, when Sigge falls off the wagon for the umpteenth time and is thrown in jail, Maria takes it to a photographer's studio, hoping to pawn it for rent money.
The shop's proprietor, Sebastian Pedersen (Jesper Christensen), as calm as Sigge is violent, sees something in the shy Maria, who the film suggests is like the moth crashing against the windowpane, drawn to Pedersen's light.
When Pedersen takes the camera lens and shows Maria how through it the moth is a shadow dancer, she immediately grasps the transforming power of photography. By taking and developing photographs, Maria literally and metaphorically turns negatives into positives.
Troell (The Emigrants, Hamsun) is himself a master cinematographer whose expressive lighting bathes Everlasting Moments in an aura as stark and dreamy as Maria Larsson's life. Troell shot in 16mm and blew it up to 35mm, which gives his film the grain, halo, and silvery magic of early film.
Those reared on the conventions of Hollywood films where the meek are rewarded and the selfish punished might be disappointed in the episodic story of the saintly Maria, who endures spousal abuse and poverty while providing for her many children. But this would be to miss the point about the valiant woman who, though slight and apparently weak, finds strength in faith and vocation. Maria sees things most of us cannot. So does Troell.
Contact critic Carrie Rickey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-5402. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl.