Maria Heiskanen plays Maria Larsson, doting mother to seven and wife of fractious, constantly inebriated lunk Sigge (Mikael Persbrandt). She discovers a talent for taking photographs when trying to pawn a Contessa camera won in a local lottery, and is urged by the shop assistant to give the contraption a whirl before selling it. As Sigge administers regular bouts of abuse and relies on brute force to dodge accusations of infidelity, political dissidence and general folly, Maria secretly begins to snap her surroundings. From the set-up, you’d expect the film to skip down a conventional narrative path where Maria’s newfound talent leads directly to empowerment, happiness and a measure of independence, but it tactfully avoids the allure of cliché to concentrate on a more profound and rational story, one just as interested in family and community dynamics as it is in the difficulty of expressing oneself artistically.
As a portrait of a genuinely ‘good’ person, Heiskanen’s nuanced, deeply affecting performance recalls Imelda Staunton in ‘Vera Drake’, her reserved and intensely pragmatic façade occasionally slipping away to reveal an inner passion that – in the social context – must be suppressed at all costs. And while Persbrandt’s Sigge is very much the ogre of the piece, his charismatic turn plays on the inner complexities of a character who constantly teeters on the cusp of redemption, but never quite manages to come to terms with feelings of envy and bitterness towards his saintly spouse. Ambitious and stately while never stooping to maudlin hysteria, Troell’s film meshes scenes of high drama and silent contemplation while the milky, sepia-toned Super16 photography lends the images an exquisite, tactile quality.