Wednesday, March 26, 2008

As it is in heaven

Having recently seen Så som i himmelen (As it is in heaven), I've had two thoughts:

• 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).

• More importantly, the enduring popularity of the film* demonstrates our society's deep yearning for genuine community.
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.

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)."


psychodougie said...

what a harsh tone to your review!
you wrote, for example the film would portray the dramatic outburst of hidden emotions, but not the long and sometimes slow process of working it through to reconciliation.
but wasn't the point that in this community there was such an openness to one another that reconciliation wasn't protracted series of forced apologies, forced acceptances; but a place where even with the harshest of statements Arne could just run outside, tell her to suck it up (well i assumed that's what happened in that instance), and within minutes the party's going again. it seemed the only thing that truly disrupted the community was when the outside (the lutheran morality police) enforced their ideals on the inside.

i also like any film that doesn't have a completely hollywood ending! (i won't spoil it for those yet to see it)

Gordon Cheng said...

Hej, jag talar Svensk! It's pretty darn easy really, the vocab is small and if you know German as well, along with English, away you go. Put a mouthful of porridge in, don't swallow and you can manage Dansk as well.

nico said...

hi byron,

haven't seen the film on the basis that my mum loved it (a pretty good bellwether of my inverse enjoyment), thanks for the review though!

the orpheum is in cremorne though (not rozelle), and yes, it's still showing.


byron smith said...

Psychodougie - I'm not talking about a protracted series of forced apologies and acceptances, but simply about the fact that real reconciliation of deep hurt generally takes time.

Gordon - Om jag kunde tala Svensk den skulle bli nöje.

Nico - it is a bit of a 'mum' film. Oops - location now fixed.

Ben Myers said...

This reminds me of an anecdote that I once heard from Helmut Thielicke: he was giving a sermon in his rather broken English, and after the service a woman approached him and said: "Professor Thielicke, the German language is not nearly as difficult as I had imagined. By the end of your sermon, I could understand nearly every word!"

Ben Myers said...

Sorry, just to clarify: I heard this anecdote in a recorded lecture by Thielicke...

Justin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin said...

Does it have any similar themes as Babette's Feast?

Both Scandinavian...

(Edit Grammar.)

byron smith said...

JM - Not sure - haven't seen BF.
Ben - very nice. And I'm glad you've given up necromancy; recordings are so much simpler and save on dead chickens and suchlike.

Ben Myers said...

Oh no, I haven't given up on necromancy — but with Karl Barth in his grave, I figured Thielicke was a waste of a perfectly good chicken.

And as for Babette's Feast: you should drop everything and see it right away. It's one of the most beautiful films ever made!

Justin said...

And as for Babette's Feast: you should drop everything and see it right away.


psychodougie said...

yeah i was thinking babette's feast all the way thru. embracing the good.

real reconciliation of deep hurt generally takes time
do you think there was something in the way theu did seem to just move on tho? not seeming to be super affected by the hurts?
indeed, providing an atmosphere where people feel welcome to share their hurts with a view to reconciliation?

did you not get that, or do you not think it was realistic?

Paul said...

Hi Byron, a very interesting perspective on this movie. I initially had the opposite experience, I thought it was an entertaining and well produced film, but couldn't find anything helpful from the themes/ideas presented ... there seems to be little hope for this Christ-like conductor beyond the pleasure of listening to his people sing (which should not be understated either) and then there is the strangely hollow reconciliation between the victim and the perpetrator of violence ... perhaps it is simplistic of me, but was this a deeply humanistic film? However, your point about society's deep yearning for community (as well as escape) is also true. Paul

Andrea said...

It has been a while since I have watched this movie and feel psychodougie and Paul both have valid points on reconcilliation etc.

I remember watching the movie and even with its faults, thinking "if only".

Since leaving a certain church in Sydney, church has been the last place I found community. I found it more in a pub filled with hardened people and alcoholics who had empathy becuase they had experienced life for what many experience it.

I wish to raise the idea here of euthenasia. So much we debate the idea of allowing it for pal care patients as a good death - put a person out of their misery at their request. (society can't change that at this time - it is only caring to provide for those wishes).

What I do not see is that there is much recognition (except perhaps Switzerland) for mental illness.

In today's ideals it seems that even this brief, if sometimes unrealistic view, of community does not exist. We seem to live in a world to which we are encouraged to be around positive people, people who can get us places or people who are not taxing on our time or emotions.

In basic community, perhaps I have an missplaced belief that it used to mean something or that there was some sort of eutopia in times gone by, but I think of love, acceptance and patience,,, caring for those who need care and being there for one another. This is vastly different from my experience in today's society (not community) except perhaps with my mum and her efforts.

I cannot even remember when community disappeared except to say there is a fond memory in my family of my grandparents coming to Australia when I was a baby and taking me from house to house in the tiny village I was in to introduce me into the community and for those that missed me, they took me to the post office to also introduce me to the local farmers. Their aim in doing so,,, to obviously show off the new baby but to also have a foundation upon which a community was welcomed into a life in the hopes that it would be there for that life and so on. We moved. A shame - people I know still asked about me only 5 years ago when my family visited the dying community.

Why do I bring up euthenasia, community and mental illness. It should be clear. Whilst the govermnent "removes" stigmas for those with depression etc we are shunned for the reasons above to the point that some of us - our only social outing may be a few hours work per week if we can and seeing customers for 30 seconds at a time, with the only other contact being that you pay for in the form of mental health professionals.

No community, no support, no friends... it is crippling to someone who is depressed. Should we not be looking honestly at our failure as a society and allowing those desperate to not live to be put out of their misery as well or should they be forced to live such a horrible existance indefinitely if they wish?

It would be nice in future to see community come to existance but current views, mainly capitalistic and selfish, stop it in its tracks.

Therefore I ask you. Instead of potentially botched suicides, existances not worthy of pets. Should a person be forced to live?