Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Special: Så som i himmelen

I've been away from NYC's surfeit of live music opportunities for a few days, paying a filial visit to rural Pennsylvania.  To my surprise, a meditation on music found me there.  Why does music have the power to move us so profoundly?  How is the way a world-class orchestra makes--and experiences--music different from that of an only-sometimes-in-tune village choir... and how is it similar?  These are just a few of the questions I find myself mulling a few days after seeing Kay Pollack's 2004 film Så som i himmelen (As it is in Heaven.)  I still can't decide whether its exploitation of audience expectations is shameless, or a stroke of genius... or both.  I admit, freely, that I am sentimental (though hopefully not a sentimentalist.)  And I happen to like the Lives Transformed Through Music plot (cf. Les Choristes.)  I can't help it.  And, at least at several days' remove, I think "As it is in Heaven" succeeds astonishingly well, despite (or because of) introducing several familiar plot arcs at once.

Small European villages seem to get a rather bad rap in film.  From the sensual comedy of Chocolat (ah, Juliette Binoche, how I love thee) to the stark storytelling of The White Ribbon, and now in this... nearly everyone is repressed!  Recommendations for the justification of the village in film gladly accepted.  The Cosmopolitan Outsider Comes To Repressed Village storyline is given a twist here, as the cosmopolitan outsider in question spent his early childhood in said village (where he was severely bullied.)  This may be another stereotype all its own.  The kid who was beaten up by school toughs for playing "the fiddle" has become a world-famous musician... but neither his encounters with the grown-up bullies or the village choir unfold quite as expected.  Come to that, neither does his interaction with the quite alarmingly repressed pastor.  Michael Nyqvist acted the sometimes cowardly, often anguished, and unremittingly intense and passionate outsider with remarkable sensitivity, I thought.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that learning to sing in tune did not fix the village's problems.  Yes, it precipitates more honest communication; and that makes people angry.  Some healing is begun, some healthy processes are initiated, but some anger and hurt remains unresolved, and some is even provoked.  There's an improbable romance I'm not sure about; I find myself being irked by it, and then I feel mean-spirited for being irked because they're so timid and damaged and... and cute, dang it. Did I say to myself, occasionally, "Really? You're really going to pull that plot trick?"  Yes.  Did I cry?  ...Gentle Readers, need you ask?   If you're in the mood for a good cry, or a bit of provocative reflection on people and music, and don't mind a touch of Rührseligkeit on the side, I recommend it.  For a taste of the singing, or a test of your tolerance for the sentiment, try this:


  1. (Never mind. Blogger refuses to let me post anything longer than a sentence... I know I talk a lot but, Blogger, can you be more subtle?)

  2. @DTO Oh, well that's silly of it. When I saw your "testing" comment I checked to see if a comment had been mistakenly marked as spam by Blogger, but didn't find anything. Sorry. :( Feel free to post in as many separate entries as necessary in future.

  3. This happened to me over at Stray's blog too. Both msgs had three paragraphs. Oddity.

    Anyhoo. I was gonna say, Antonia's Line, the Dutch film, has a different kind of village. And there's Jennifer Saunders' Jam and Jerusalem, recent BBC series, that's a great re-read and sly defense of an (English) small town.

  4. @DTO Hmph... very odd indeed, as comment length hasn't been a problem (to my knowledge) before. I may putter around in the help pages and see what I find.

    Thanks for the recommendations... I found a trailer for "Antonia's Line" and it looks delightful! The NYPL has it, so, much joy. I did discover the first few episodes of Jam & Jerusalem on YT a while back, and found it a hoot (as well as convincingly poignant in places, of course.)

  5. Comments problem is weird. There is supposed to be an anti-spam 4k character limit for comments, but unless one is Thomas Mann this should not be an issue, yes? Perhaps it's some kind of passive-aggressive anti-Wordpress thing on Blogger's part.

  6. @stray Gasp! Innocent opera bloggers caught up in Wordpress-Blogger feuding! It'll be a one-act opera in no time. Also, thanks for commenting (I'm glad Thomas Mann isn't.)


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