Publicity Stills of "As It Is In Heaven"
(Courtesy from Festive Films)

In Swedish with English subtitles
Director: Kay Pollak
Cast: Michel Nyqvist, Frida Hallgren
RunTime: 2 hrs 10 mins
Released By: Festive Films & Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: NC-16 (Some Nudity)

Released Date: 8 September 2005


A successful international conductor suddenly interrupts his career and returns alone to his childhood village in Norrland, in the far north of Sweden. It doesn't take long before he is asked to come and listen to the fragment of a church choir, which practises every Thursday in the parish hall. Just come along and give a little bit of good advice. He can't say no, and from that moment, nothing in the village is the same again. The choir develops and grows. He makes both friends and enemies. And he finds love.

Movie Review:

When it comes to watching films, there should be times when we should ditch the cynics in us at the door. This definitely applies to this Swedish film. The story is simple. The characters are stereotypical archetypes that are predictable in their every line and action. The leads are not even exactly the best-looking movie stars around. But at the core of this sincere film is something real and close to our hearts.

There are no complicated twists and turns in the story. It tells the tale of Daniel (Michael Nyqvist), a successful and talented conductor, who returns the rural village he grew up in, to recover from a heart attack. No one recognizes him because he had changed his name many years ago. Soon, he is approached to lead the local church choir. As he confronts his own past demons, love comes in the form of one of the choir members, Lena (Frida Hallgren), who helps him to find who he really is. Along the way, Daniel also unknowingly upsets the insular town’s social balance.

Not a very interesting or intriguing storyline, you say? It is precisely this simple plot about the beauty of life that makes this film a gem amongst other Hollywood commercial blockbusters.

The film is carried by a top-notch cast. Nyqvist, who is an acclaimed and professionally-trained actor in Sweden, captures the initial loneliness, miserly and exhaustion of his character perfectly. Throughout the film, you see him open up, and eventually finding his own peace of mind. Hallgren, on the other hand, brings out the charm, liveliness and youth in Lena, which is a nice contrast to Nyqvist’s Daniel.

Director Kay Pollack’s confidence in directing shows brilliantly. Every scene captivates viewers with its heartfelt emotions. Music is superbly used, and the scenic remoteness of the village in Norrland, northern Sweden, is captured beautifully on camera. This is Pollack’s first film in 18 years since 1986’s Love Me, and we can see this man still has what it takes. His work was recognized during the recent 77th Academy Awards, when it was nominated it in the category of Best Foreign Film. However, this fourteenth nomination for Sweden did not bag the award, which eventually went to the rather overrated The Sea Inside from Spain.

Running at 130 minutes, there may be certain bits of the film which seem sluggish. Fortunately, thanks to the endearing Daniel and the rest of the wonderfully cast members of the village, the viewing experience is still a pleasant one.

Another thing the audience may have problems with is the simple characterizations in the film. Everyone has a straightforward role – the teacher, the artist, the priest, the abuser, the abused, the messiah, the bully; everything appears so clear-cut and one-dimensional. But, there is so much honesty in them that their petty differences seem to be a stark reflection of our own lives.

To top it all off, the film features some truly moving scenes which will leave you mesmerized with the beauty of music and on a deeper level, life. Other than the obligatory final inspiring scene, another gorgeous sequence to look out for is when the abused wife, Gabriella (Helen Sjöholm), sings a song specially written for her. One of Sweden’s biggest musical stars on stage, Sjöholm’s voice will enchant the cynic in you.

Sure, there are no loud explosions and no fancy computer generated effects to draw in the average movie-goer. But do yourself a favour, watch this film, experience the beauty of life, and you will take home a piece of heaven with you.

Movie Rating:

(A small movie with a big heart that you should not miss!)

Review by John Li


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