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Director Jan Troell owes 'Everlasting Moments' to his wife

March 01, 2009|Susan King

Swedish director Jan Troell doesn't take Hollywood and its awards very seriously.

"I take it with a little bit of salt," said the low-key director during a recent visit to Los Angeles for the Golden Globe Awards.

His latest film, the poignant "Everlasting Moments," which opens in L.A. in limited release on Friday, had been nominated for a Globe for foreign-language film. The film, though, lost to "Waltz With Bashir."

Now 77, Troell recalled that he was the toast of Hollywood after his 1971 film "The Emigrants" earned five Oscar nominations, including best film, director and actress (Liv Ullmann).

"People were bowing and saying wonderful things," he said with a slight grin. "When we didn't get the wins, the attitude of people changed like this, from one moment to another. Afterward, people avoided me and the producer. We couldn't take it completely seriously."

Still, Hollywood didn't abandon him. Troell would go on to have a brief encounter with studio filmmaking after "The New Land," the 1972 sequel to "The Emigrants," was released and earned an Oscar nomination for foreign-language film.

Warner Bros. offered him the drama "Zandy's Bride" with Ullmann and Gene Hackman. After completing it, he was asked to sign a 10-picture contract, but "I didn't want it. Then they said what about five? But I didn't feel comfortable not shooting in my language. I didn't want to get stuck here."

Troell did make one more Hollywood film, the disastrous 1979 disaster flick "Hurricane," with Mia Farrow. "There were many special effects with wind and waves," he explained, sipping on a Coke at the Sunset Marquis restaurant. (Joining him at the table was "Everlasting Moments" producer Thomas Stenderup -- Troell's cat Anders had eaten one of his hearing aids, and Stenderup was an extra ear if the filmmaker needed it.)

"It was more or less out of my hands," Troell said of "Hurricane." "It was a difficult experience, because I didn't feel I did a good job myself."

But he never regrets taking the job, because he met his wife, Agneta Ulfsater-Troell, on the set in Bora Bora. "She came with a fellow friend of hers," he recalled. "They were both journalists who had been allowed to come on the set."

And if it hadn't been for his wife, "Everlasting Moments" -- which earned six awards, including best film and actress for Maria Heiskanen, from the Swedish Film Institute -- wouldn't have happened.

The period drama is set during the turn of the 20th century and based on the life of Maria Larsson, the great-aunt of Troell's wife. Despite having an alcoholic, abusive husband -- who spent time in prison for attempted murder against her -- and raising seven children in poverty-stricken surroundings, Maria transformed herself into an accomplished photographer, thanks to a camera she won at a lottery.

Ulfsater-Troell spent six years interviewing Maria's eldest daughter, Maya, about her mother. "Agneta started interviewing her in 1986 and finished before Maya died in 1992," Troell said. "Agneta couldn't keep herself from telling me what she heard. So during those six years, I heard about the people and the camera, and that appealed to me. It came to one point when Agneta said she was contemplating making a documentary about her with a friend at Swedish television. So from then we started talking about it."

The couple wrote a 40-page treatment, which they sent to producer Stenderup.

"You asked me to read it and I came immediately the next day and said, 'This was the best treatment for a film I have ever read,' " Stenderup said. "We made a very important agreement. I said this could turn out to be a very expensive film, and Jan looked at me and said, 'Yes, but we have to do it no matter if we have a small pot of money or a bigger pot of money.' "

They managed to get a decent budget for the film, nearly $7 million. "You still needed 26 financiers from five countries," Stenderup said. "But you know everybody liked the story and the script. They believed in both Jan and me."

Troell said he has been overwhelmed by the response to "Everlasting Moments."

"Audience reactions have been similar everywhere," he said. "People recognize themselves, and they want to come and talk to you about it."


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