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AS IT IS IN HEAVEN (article first published : 2007-06-20)

As It Is In Heaven has been a while reaching us - it was Sweden's hope for the 2005 Oscar for best foreign film - but the wait has been worth it, because there is much to like in what has been rated as Sweden’s third-largest grossing film.

Be warned, however, that for all the fine cinematography, deft direction, excellent performances and engaging storytelling there is also a great, big whallop of sentimentality. In fact, were it not let down by a particularly treacley, heavy-handed finale, the movie would probably have received a 9/10 rating from this reviewer.

Directed and written by Kay Pollak, the subtitled As It Is In Heaven chronicles the tale of an internationally renowned concert conductor, Daniel Dareus (Michael Myquist), who, after collapsing with stress, takes time out from a busy schedule that has him booked solid by his agent for the next eight years.

To recuperate from a heart attack, loner Daniel heads for the small village of Norrland, in northern Sweden, where nobody remembers him having spent a childhood traumatised by constant attacks from bullies.

Buying the old school building to set up home, Daniel slowly starts to win friends and, when he signs up to give some guidance to the local church choir, influence people - and change lives and attitudes in the sleepy rural neighbourhood.

He also starts dredging up painful old memories and, spurring jealousy in some, makes a few enemies. Ultimately, perhaps inevitably, he finds contentment and, yes, he also finds love.

It's his journey and his interaction with strong, credible, colourful supporting characters, each with his or her own quirks or set of problems, which lend weight and lustre to a drama that is proving a moneyspinner for local distributor Ster-Kinekor.

Spousal abuse, intolerance, hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness … all come into play in a film which, not without flourishes of humour, has Myquist on top-notch form, delivering a neatly nuanced performance that is beautifully balanced by the bubbly Frida Hallgren as Lena, a sensitive shop assistant who befriends then beguiles him.

Other standouts are Ingela Olsson as Inger, the long-repressed and now-ready-to-rebel wife of the local pastor (Niklas Falk), and the luminous Helen Sjöholm (apparently one of Sweden's biggest stage musical stars) as Gabriella, a mother of two blessed with a glorious voice but burdened with a drunken husband who constantly beats her.

As It Is In Heaven may cover many tracks covered before in similar dramas, but it's story of courage and quests for happiness and fulfilment are engaging and moving. It's an uplifting film that is sure to find a good audience at Cinema Nouveau. Rating 8/10 – Billy Suter




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