AS IT IS IN HEAVEN
Sweden, 2004, 132 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Kay Pollak.
Swedish Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, this absorbing drama has proven very successful in unexpected markets (staying on in some Australian cinemas for almost a year). It has a great deal going for it, not least the music and the story of the development of a choir.
The focus of the film is a very talented musician, Daniel. The opening shows him as a little boy playing the violin in a wheatfield and then being bullied. As he grows up, tended by a loving mother, he wins music exams and eventually becomes a famous (and demanding) conductor. A physical collapse sends him back to his village in Sweden where he has bought the old school.
The film shows Daniel settling in, the response of the villagers, the approach of the pastor to ask him to help. Daniel gradually acclimatises and thaws in his relationships. He accepts the post of cantor and proceeds to train the ramshackle choir as if they were to be professionals. Some of these sequences are quite exhilarating as is their growing sense of worth and their improving performances.
However, there is a great deal more drama going on.
As the tile quote from the Lord’s Prayer indicates, this is a film about religion. And, its message is quite subversive – but very much in the spirit of the gospel and Jesus’ message. (One might note that, popular as the film is, it is more critical of authoritarian religion and its impositions than The Golden Compass., and rightly so).
The figure of contention is the pastor who shows that a married minister of religion may still be prim, prudish and puritanical with a severe Augustinian view of sexuality compounded by some Reformation strictness. There are some powerful scenes with his wife where he equates sexuality with sin. His wife is very critical of the concept of God and sin (rigid and unforgiving) that her husband lives by. This leads to his antagonism towards Daniel and his alienation of his community who have been thrilled by their awakening in the choir and are prepared to form their own community where gospel values and joy are paramount.
This has a profound effect on Daniel and on the young woman who runs a local shop and whose relationships have been the scandalised talk of the town. She is obviously a parallel character with some of the less respectable characters in the gospel – and she learns that love and compassion overcome a multitude of sins.
Audiences will enjoy the singing, especially the song sung by the battered wife of the man who bullied Daniel as a boy. There is a final united harmony sequence where competing choirs all hum as one – a glimpse, perhaps, of ‘as it is in heaven’.
1.The appeal of the film? Popularity? Oscar nomination? Music? Religion? Human nature?
2.The Swedish background, the village, the seasons, winter, the wheat fields, beauty? Beyond Sweden, Italy, Innsbruck?
3.The title, the religious overtones, the Lord’s Prayer? The prayer that life on Earth could be like that in Heaven? The reflections on God, God and sin, forgiveness, love? The transition from this world to eternity?
4.The music, the boy playing the violin, the orchestral music, the choir, the hymns, ‘Amazing Grace’, the songs, Gabriella’s song? The final harmony in the whole hall?
5.The opening: the child, playing the violin in the wheat, the other children, the bullying and fighting, the effect on Daniel? Going to his mother, her telling him to have no fear? His violin skills, at fourteen, in competition, his mother’s death on the street? Changing of his name? His adult life, the insertion of his memories? The blood while conducting, his impatience with people’s inefficiencies, his collapse? The manager and his decision to return to Sweden?
6.Going to the village, the taxi, winter, the old school, settling in, chopping the wood, tidying the house, Stig and his visit, the invitation to a meal?
7.Daniel, his age, early forties, his experience, music, returning to Sweden to listen, his heart condition, work, going back to Sweden to die?
8.The village itself, the shops, Lina in the store, Daniel seeing her cry? Their discussions, the bingo, going to Arne, the discussions, the bike, the discussions about the choir? Settling in, his wanting the job as cantor, Stig accepting him? Stig and his attitude? Connie and his skidding with the truck on the road? The rabbit, Daniel taking a photo, Stig and the rifle, Connie and the rifle, shooting the rabbit, beating it to death? The symbol of attitudes?
9.The choir, Daniel and the invitation to drop in, his listening, saying much of it was good? The happy reaction of Arne and the group? His working with the choir, the different characters, the breathing, posture, movement? Their lying on the floor and laughing? The interruptions? Arne and the phone calls, the deals, the coffee break, Connie and his intrusion?
10.Finding the individual sounds for the characters, the effect, their joy? Torah and his intellectual deficiencies, around the group, his singing, their accepting him? Siv and her suspicions, voicing them? Stig sitting in, his being ousted?
11.The gradual improvement, the sound, the harmony, the joy? Their celebrating with parties? Daniel writing the song for Gabriela? The extra lesson for Lina – and Siv noticing?
12.The characters, ordinary, their interactions, flaws, qualities?
A: Arne, the entrepreneur, his store, deals, the phone, leadership, making the arrangements, taunting the fat man, the fight with him, being told to shut up?
B: The fat man, his being bullied for years, his outburst against Arne, weeping, his influence on Gabriela singing the song?
C: Gabriela, the marriage to Connie, the children, bringing the children to the choir, his drunkenness, his demands, permission for her to go out, brutalising her, battering, his listening to the song, his fight with Daniel in the water? The arrest? Gabriela visiting him in jail?
D: Eric, the old man, Florence, the older woman, his declaration of love at the table?
E: Torah, his relationship with Arne, with Lina, Lina cleaning him, his joy, singing?
F: Siv, her puritanical stances, her reports to Stig, prim, leaving the choir?
G: Inger, her relationship with her husband, the tensions, her joy in singing, in feeling free, dancing? The discussions with Stig, her home truths about their relationship, the sexual relationship and his passion, her being hurt when he denied the event happening? Leaving Stig?
13.Stig, pastor for twenty-five years, the nature of his being a pastor, the parish council and their decisions, the choir, engaging Daniel? His change, his puritanical attitudes, his relationship with his wife, the passionate outburst, his praying for forgiveness, denial, his asking forgiveness for sin, Inger and her talking about sin, God not forgiving because he was compassionate, her taunts about the church, Stig’s aiming for power, his sacking Daniel, drinking, the confrontation with the rifle, his self-pity, his loss of prestige, his packing Inger’s bag, the uncertainty about her coming back to him?
14.Daniel and Lina, in the shop, the lessons, at the water, the discussions about liking and love? Siv’s denunciation? Lina, helping Daniel to ride the bike? Her wanting the truth about his relationships and the accusations? Going to Innsbruck, her jealousy of the fans, the sexual encounter?
15.Daniel, the change, issues of liking and loving, as a cantor, his achievement, wanting to help people sing and be happy? Inger and her staying with him, his support of Gabriela? Connie and the fight in the water? His being given the sack? Everybody gathering round, the increased number in the choir, an alternate church? The concert and its achievement?
16.The decision to go to Innsbruck, Arne’s plan, Daniel hesitant, the decision to go? The bus trip, Daniel and his friends, the old conductor, reunited with him, realising his love for Lina, their sexual encounter?
17.The harmony in the hall, waiting for Daniel, Thor and the others starting, everybody joining in?
18.Daniel, in the restroom, collapsed, listening to the music, dying happy?
19.The themes of music and beauty, life and love?
20.The church, clergy, rigidity and power, sin, the nature of God, sin and forgiveness, love and passion?