Running Time: 127 minutes
Rated: Rated M (moderate coarse language, moderate themes, moderate violence).
This is a drama about exorcising demons and discovering love. Its central figure, Daniel Darius (Michael Linqvist), an internationally recognised Conductor, drops out of international celebrity after a heart attack and steps back into his childhood village in far north Sweden. But the demons that cast him as a child out are still lurking. It is through directing the village choir that he confronts the fear that has held him hostage all his life. Nominated for Best Foreign Film in the 77th Academy Awards, beautifully directed by Swedish Director Kay Pollock, As it is in Heaven, as its title suggests, casts more than a backwards glance towards that difficult theological relationship between heaven and earth.
The film opens like an arpeggio. Inside a field of waving barley the music of a violin played by a small blond Daniel dips and soars. His music sheet wavers too, pegged delicately to a barley stalk. Daniel is utterly in harmony with his world. But then the boy thugs arrive. The blood spilt on the barley becomes the leit-motiv of the film: blood spattered on the musical score; blood spattering the snow; blood sodden paper towels clutched by Daniel whilst his choir finally discovers its musical spirit. The blood is about the wound of love; about the full and tender heart and, of course, about suffering.
Daniel makes the principles of harmony and balance the fulcrum of his new musical endeavour - teaching his motley village Choir. The mood of their practices becomes one of exultation as individuals find their true note. Their strength grows. The focus for much of this new found strength is the incandescent Lena played by Frida Hallgren. She falls in love with the vulnerable and talented Daniel and standing for the balance and courage he lacks, she teaches him to ride a bike.
The scandalous success of the Choir brings out all the demons. Even as Daniel arrived, one threateningly fishtails his Skandia rig across the snowy road. Even the Lutheran Pastor, locked into a black theology of the cross, threatens Daniel with a gun. To each of the bullies Daniel's rectitude and brilliance pose a huge threat. But he can only oppose their violence with his own tender spirit.
For Gabriella, the battered wife, he writes a music of affirmation. She stuns the gathered audience, asserting who she is and so confronting the cruelty of cowards. The music takes on a liturgical function. It makes sacred the bond between these wounded people; it gives them the grace to speak their truth, even if it stings. Music brings healing. Ultimately, in the big Concert Hall in Vienna, the Choir's harmonic radiates and binds. As the musical impulse builds, the whole Hall stands, one by one, to join in. A great and glorious spirit sings.
In the end, Daniel does discover how to love. The film's polarity between love and violence swings true. Not only is there strength of spirit, there are angels too, just like those painted on the school house wall. And Angels communicate the joy of heaven to earth.
Rialto Out Now
Jenny McMillan is an associate of the Australian Catholic office for Film & Broadcasting.