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January 27, 2005

Another movie about a choral director nominated for Oscar

Hollywood Reporter (CA):

Alone in a field of tall grass, a young boy plays the violin beautifully, but his solitary hideaway puts him no closer to the harmony he seeks in his imagination nor far enough away from the local bullies who hound him. In Kay Pollak's deeply affecting film "As It Is in Heaven," those twin torments borne of hope and fear drive the talented but haunted young musician to become a celebrated conductor, Daniel Dareus (Michael Nyqvist).

He is a fierce maestro, willing to bleed and excoriate his orchestra to achieve the musical heights he strives for, and finally he pushes himself too far. When a heart attack forces Dareus to give up the podium, he returns to the tiny village where he grew up and, as the poet said, discovers the place for the first time.

Filled with passion, humor and much sadness, this Swedish-language film could do very well with global audiences that enjoyed such films as "Mr. Holland's Opus" and "Billy Elliott," with their appealing mix of music and aspiration. The film is the Swedish entry for the foreign-language Academy Award.

From a jet-set life, in which his agent had him fully booked for the next eight years, Dareus finds himself alone with an empty calendar. Hoping to remain unrecognized in the snowbound village, having changed his name at the outset of his career, the maestro buys the old village schoolhouse. He seeks a quiet existence in order to take care of his heart, which his doctor has described as completely worn out.

His anonymity is soon breached, however, and soon he is reluctantly coaching the local church choir. He becomes cantor and spiritual leader of the mixed band of choristers who include local businessmen, housewives and village oddballs. There also are three women whose involvement leads to both love and conflict. Lena (Frida Hallgren) is fresh-faced, blond and eager for life. Gabriella (noted singer Helen Sjoholm) has a beautiful voice and a jealous wife-beater for a husband. And Inger (Ingela Olsson) is married to the guilt-ridden village priest, Stig (Niklas Falk).

Using original and unconventional methods, Dareus leads the choir toward his dream of perfect, soaring harmony, and many life lessons are encountered along the way. By the time the choir is ready to compete in a major festival, the internecine fears and squabbles and external sniping place the group's fate, and the conductor's life, in jeopardy.

Nyqvist makes a completely believable near-genius whose human frailty gives greater anguish to his driving musical passion. Hallgren is endearing as the young woman who offers him the chance of love. The rest of the cast offers sterling work as a range of characters masterfully established by Pollak and his co-scriptors. It's extraordinarily difficult to capture on film the indescribable miracle that results in musical creations of great wonder. This film, with an inspired score by Stefan Nilsson, comes closer than most.

Posted by acapnews at January 27, 2005 12:33 AM