• Swedish sounds easier to learn than I expected; there were many links to both German and Old English (not that I can speak either of those, but even the smattering of each was enough to pick up a few lines in the film).The story explores the development of a small Swedish village church choir under the guidance of a brilliant international conductor who unexpectedly retires in order to return to his roots. The choir are drawn together by a shared object of desire into a community that is creative, healing, honest, non-judgemental, transformative, sexuality-celebrating, fear-overcoming, a refuge and has space for difference and imperfection - in fact, all the things church is meant to be. No wonder the village pastor is driven into obsolescence.
• More importantly, the enduring popularity of the film* demonstrates our society's deep yearning for genuine community.
This is a film that draws deeply upon Christian language and symbolism, not least in having a Christ-figure around whom the community formed, whose ‘crucifixion’ (first through being rejection, then symbolically in his own death) reconciled and established the community. Moreover, in this community angels can be glimpsed and life starts happening on earth as it is in heaven. In contrast, the village church, particularly through the figure of the repressed and repressive priest, is revealed as a sham community of control, conformity, fear, gossip and envy. The community claiming to be Christian is thus critiqued using many of its own standards.
Its alternative was a "church" with no prayer, no sin, no sacrament, no word. Just music. Although the slow growth into honesty amongst the choir led to many dramatic acknowledgements of long-buried tensions, and in (almost) every case this lead to new levels of love and acceptance and unity, the film would portray the dramatic outburst of hidden emotions, but not the long and sometimes slow process of working it through to reconciliation. Perhaps we have to assume this occurred off-camera, but it is of such stuff that real community is made.
Unfortunately, the film was more interesting theologically and musically than dramatically: wounded genius retires early and returns to his home village where he has to confront his past yet finds acceptance and love through learning to offer them to others.
Four out of five stars.
*I think it is still showing at the Orpheum in Cremorne, more than a year after it opened, making it the longest-running film in Australia. It's been showing continuously for the last two and a half years in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Images from here, which also suggested that the film is "a classic Western. Mysterious stranger rides into town, arousing the womenfolk and upsetting the menfolk. Although a man of peace, his presence excites violence. In the end, he must die for his beliefs, releasing the town from its troubles (it's kinda difficult to ride off into the sunset when the next one might not come for another 9 months)."