Visual acuity is at the heart of "Everlasting Moments," the beautiful new film by Sweden's Jan Troell ("The Emigrants"). Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen) is the working-class wife of an abusive drunk. After winning a camera in a lottery, she stumbles on her gift for photography and it changes her life, though not all for the better. This is a movie stripped bare of clichés about self-discovery.
Maria soon finds herself in demand as a local portraitist, and in one scene, a mother whose child has drowned asks her to photograph the corpse in the coffin—a common early 20th-century custom. The resulting picture shows the dead girl in her casket, while through the window above it, a few kids can be seen staring in at the body. But we don't see the photo until Maria takes it to a camera shop. What makes this scene so wonderful is a sort of double awareness: first, that this unassuming woman has a natural eye, which elevates her in our estimation—and second, that the filmmakers had to actually create a great photo to make the scene work, which elevates them in our estimation. "Everlasting Moments" is rapturously shot throughout, but this is the sequence that took my breath away.