CINEMA: by Len Phillips (reviewer)News Weekly
The gentle art of making enemies - As It Is in Heaven
, July 7, 2007
The underlying theme of the hit Swedish film As It Is In Heaven is yet another symptom of how society has lost its bearings. Film reviewed by Len Phillips.The other day I was in a bookshop and noticed the list of its five non-fiction bestsellers. Running third was God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. Second was The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. But first was the zaniest of them all, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, which explains how if you wish hard enough the universe will provide you with whatever it is you want.
What I find so depressing is the way in which the anti-God industry pours out ever more of the same material to so many readers who, it seems, simply cannot get enough. Why they should need so much reinforcement for their non-belief is hard to understand.
What brings all this to mind is a recent Swedish film that has joined the contemporary attack on religion and religious belief. As It Is In Heaven
is a tale of mortality and love. It dwells on the dissatisfactions of life and the uneasy road to earthly contentment.
The plot is this. A world-famous conductor, Daniel Daréus (Michael Nyqvist), suffers a heart attack. He decides to abandon his relentless work schedule, which determines where he will be eight years into the future. He retires to his native village of Norrland, in the far north of Sweden, where he used to suffer bullying because of his love of music.
Everyone in the village knows him as a famous conductor, but not that he has lived there previously. One of the locals, more forward than the rest, invites him to participate in the church choir.
Although somewhat reluctant and shy at first, Daniel nevertheless consents and within minutes has taken it on as his own project. Thus he turns a woman, who until then had been the choir leader, into enemy number one.
Then there is Daniel's boyhood tormentor Conny (Per Morberg) who has graduated from beating up eight-year-old violinists to becoming an abusive husband. The bully's wife, Gabriella (Helen Sjöholm), happens to be the best natural singer in the choir, so our conductor writes a special solo piece for her in which the words are about how she is free and liberated and will not be oppressed. This causes her to be beaten up yet again - and also turns her husband into enemy number two.
But then there is the pastor of the church, Stig (Niklas Falk). His wife Inger (Ingela Olsson) too is in the choir. She enjoys her time along with the others and finds comparisons of the pastor with the conductor very hard to balance. Does her husband become jealous? Yes, of course.
But just to finish the icing on the cake - in the event that one were even potentially sympathetic towards a man whose wife has become a groupie to some international celebrity - we find that this churchman has, hidden behind a bookshelf, a stash of dirty magazines which his wife has known about for years. Thus the creation of enemy number three.
The climax of the film comes when the pastor has the conductor sacked as choir-leader through the rumour-mongering of enemy number one. In protest, the choir resigns from the church en masse
and joins the conductor in order to continue rehearsing for a national competition into which they have been entered. Paradoxically, Daniel knows nothing about their participation in this event, having said - quite sensibly, I thought - that music should not be a form of competitive behaviour.
Here too his scruples are easily overcome, but then the film's entire ethos is all about overcoming scruples.
I thought of the film as quite a nice study on the power of celebrity and the disturbing influence of fame and glamour on ordinary lives. I also thought it said something about the modern world and its power to undermine traditional values.
But while it did say such things, it said so while at the same time trying to evade and deny the deeper implications of these very issues.
The eight-year-old bully doesn't grow up into a quite normal, even if slightly aggressive, member of the community as most eight-year-olds do. The woman displaced from running the choir tries to take revenge by spreading false tales about the lascivious doings of the man who replaced her. And the pastor is not just a man concerned with the lost affections of his wife, but is also a proven hypocrite who demands from others what he is shown to lack himself. Straw persons every one.Anti-religious
So all those who like to have their anti-religious prejudices reinforced by a night out at the movies can go home confirmed in their own high opinions of themselves.
But there is something more to be said. The film, trifling though it is, is one more pebble tilting the balance towards undermining our own culture and religious traditions. It is one further step towards a loss of our bearings in a pitiless world.
If one's guiding belief is only the disdain one feels towards what one does not believe in, and if one's values are based solely on what seems right at the time, there is literally nowhere that we might not drift in the absence of an anchorage any deeper than our own shallow judgments and thoughts.
We are in great peril as a society. As It Is In Heaven
shows this yet again - not on its surface, but in its underlying theme of whom it pretends are our actual enemies.- film reviewed by Len Phillips.