“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.”
As It Is in Heaven marks return of Director Kay Pollack of many years in hibernation. Quietly so, this is an astonishing Swedish drama without doubt is one of the best modern day classic about a successful international music conductor who precipitously puts his career on hold and returns alone to his childhood village in Norrland. This is one hell of his emotional ride to a place of inner uncertainty, homecoming and alienation, the treasured piece of love and redemption, through an incisive exploration, reconciliation and nostalgia. Undeniably, a liberating experience
Titled “Sa Som I Himmelen” in Swedish- As It Is in Heaven is made in 2004, was a major box office hit in Scandinavian countries, Germany, New Zealand and Australia, also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. The film stars Michael Nyqvist and Frida Hallgren. This film is both surprising and outstanding in its story and execution. Simply so, the intricate content are delightfully resonating, takes us through a perspective of pessimism into the futility of optimism of fate and chaos, unrestrained of exploration in a delicate line of spirituality which is thought provoking and inspiring without preaching or manipulating.
The opening frames of As it is in Heaven frights us from stillness and in-between lull, is the breeze of ocean winds, the squall of long grass camouflaging a young boy absorbed in playing a violin, his sheet music pinned to the reeds. Just as this interplay of natural and instrumental sound is being enjoyed, several other small boys creep up and fiercely attack the small violinist, pinning him to the ground, beating him bloody, and introducing the formative influences upon the main character of Daniel Dareus (Michael Nyqvist).
A different performance traverses with this first one as we see Daniel Dareus, a successful and distinguished international musician conducts an orchestra suffers heart attack while in the stage. The personal defeat of an uncertain health chooses Daniel to quit the burdens of international music commitments and contrarily returns to Norrland, his village in the remote of Sweden. This is the beginning of his subtle anxiety and assumes he is protected by the anonymity of his fame.
Daniel buys the old elementary school in the village, he chooses to live in the old school building made up of the remained walls with a crafted hand painted mural of angels. Having not much of plans, he is invited to come along one Thursday night to listen to the local choir. The local village Pastor, Stig (Niklas Falk) has different plans, offering Daniel the position of choirmaster to develop the talent of the local church choir.
Albeit being averse and unmoved by this request, eventually agrees to help and perceive the choir grows and develop, rediscovering his own joy of music. The film moves stylishly and beautifully through the lives of the choir singers as they are trying to find their personal tone. This search entails more than just hitting the right note. It’s crescendo movement- soft touches of piano, and as Daniel engages in unorthodox singing exercises the film unhurriedly grows louder. Meanwhile, we see how a love story unfolds between Daniel and Lena (Frida Hallgren), an attractive young girl in the choir clasps Daniel’s attention and they grow closer fall in love.
He notices the vortex of one problem after another of the community in his new role with the church choir besides sees the challenge of their latent and relents. His music becomes a catalyst for confrontations between them on sexuality, sin, ferocity and love, dissolving perplexities and in void of care and sorrow, brings fountain of joy alive in them. In all those little moments- Daniel seeks to remain detached, but he is overwhelmingly drawn into the community through the choir and their complex inter-personal relations as he prepares them for performance. Thou his dreams remain the same, “the music that will open the heart and nourish the soul to survive life’s trauma.”
Daniel becomes a heartthrob of many women in the choir; they are drawn to him because of his compassion and sensitivity. Unaware of his part, this brings a competitive tension between them. We see each of the characters and their problems stagger in a way or the other. The failed relationships of Pastor Stig and his wife Inger (Ingela Olsson). Arne (Lennart Jahkel) an ambitious local entrepreneur struggles for the choir’s success. Siv (Ylva loof) has her own devils of moral issues. Tore (André Sjoberg), a mentally challenged fighting his fear of rejection and is eventually included in the choir. Holmfrid (Mikhael Rahm) a childhood mate of Arne, being called “Fatso” is a man for all season stands for Daniel. Connie (Per Morberg), who is Daniel’s childhood foe still in the act of abuse and beats his wife Gabriella (Helen Sjöholm), a fact that is known and ignored by the whole village.
Some in the village struggle with what this emerging community will cost them as the issues open with Gabriella finally finds the strength to leave him as the whole village finds its strength to help her. Connie blames Daniel and beats him up thus landing in jail. Pastor Stig jealous intentions with the choir’s success, tries to close it down. His failure precipitates to the subsequent nervous breakdown.
At the climax of the film, the choir enters an international competition, but to everyone’s surprise, they transcend mere competition and bring instead an even greater level of community and they journey to Innsbruck, Austria to perform. Lena fears Daniel will leave her for his urbane friends from the music world. They argue, make up and then make love. On the day of the competition, the choir is ready on stage but Daniel is nowhere to be seen. He has another heart attack and a stumble into the restroom, unsure of how to handle the situation, then again hits his head on the pipe below a sink, causing him to bleed severely. Helpless and blood spurting from his head, listen to the choir harmonizing over the loudspeakers, and so to all the ecstasy, the audience are enchanted in the auditorium and sings along as Daniel smiles to himself leaving the viewer to decide his fate, completely fulfilled by reaching his goal.
The performances of all the star casts are brilliant. You can notice the consistency in direction through those characters having believable elements moving from extreme passion and an inability to express love to a balanced urge that can impartially show love to another in an appropriate way. There are a hundred such moments that should be cherished by audience.
The interesting thing is Stefan Nilsson’s music holds audience to the tee. We hear voices, exercises and harmonization. Particularly astonishing is Gabriella’s solo, during the village concert. It’s a solo that is hard to image happening in the sequence leading up to it. Any hair I still have stood to attention during this scene. It’s an absolutely defining moment for the film
Truly, this is a big hearted film and marks Pollack’s stupendous comeback. His last film “Love Me” was made in 1986. He gave up film making in the interim and became a touring lecturer on personal development. Clearly, there’s a bit of the preacher in him, too.
Lastly, watching this film I found a particular kind of exigency, and found it moving. Minutes after Daniel has moved into the old school he has bought, he discerns a white rabbit walking on the white snow. The predominating white of this beautiful shot was fraught with grey flickers that made me very aware of my viewing experience. It augmented the film experience in a way that is hard to theorize.
There is the message of As It Is In Heaven– Letting go of fear and of what we hold over others and what others hold over us, being honest, accept as it is…… Truth. Forgiveness. Mercy. Compassion. Grace. Love. Here on earth, as it is in heaven…..
- Directed by Kay Pollack
- Produced by Anders Birkeland and Goran Lindstrom
- Written by Kay Pollack, Anders Nyberg, Ola Olsson, Carin Pollack, Margaretha Pollack
- Music: Stefan Nilsson
- Cast: Michael Nyqvist; Frida Hallgren & Helen Sjöholm
- Distributed by Sonet Film
- Release dates: 20 August 2004 (Sweden)
- Run time of 132 minutes
- Country: Sweden
- Language: Swedish and English