There are times when I get really tired of the standard Hollywood fare. After awhile , cops and robbers , serial killers ,criminal forensics, superheroes , twenty-somethings and their lives begin to pall. The non-stop action and the frenetic pace doesn’t leave time for character development and there is a sameness to the treatment that makes me long for something different. At such times I turn to the foreign movies section of Netflix . My choices don’t always pan out but sometimes I stike gold. Recently, I picked two winners , one French and one Swedish.
The Swedish movie was As It Is In Heaven which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Movie ( 2005) but did not win.It is the story of Daniel Dareus , a world famous conductor, whose career comes to a crashing halt when he becomes ill and collapses on stage . Wanting to get away from it all and die in peace , he goes back to the village he had left as a little boy. There he buys a vacant schoolhouse and tries to settle down . However, his fame has preceded him and , almost against his will, he is roped first into listening the church choir and then becoming its leader. Slowly, his passion for music begins to assert itself and he becomes increasingly involved both with teaching and with the lives of the choir members. They are a diverse lot. There is Arne , the brash go-getting salesman ; the blonde Lena who flits from one boyfriend to another; the nentally retarded Tore who nevertheless wants to sing; the lovely Gabrielle who is regularly beaten up by her abusive husband , Conny , one of those who used to torment Daniel as a boy; Inger, the pastor’s wife, who chafes at his highhanded , hypocrtical ways and the prissy Siv who resents Daniel’s having taken over her leadership of the choir.Slowly but surely their lives are transformed by their interaction with Daniel just as he himself is transformed and overcomes his inability to connect with others. The film reaches its climax with the choir being invited to Germany to sing in the “Let the People Sing ” competition though the bittersweet ending left me a little dissatisfied. The acting throughout is topnotch, the pacing leisurely rather than slow, the characters finely developed and the story absorbing.Little by litttle we come to know the villagers , their secrets and their flaws as well as their strengths. The scenery is gorgeous and the bleak snowy landscapes are beautiful, if austere. There are some who may feel that the story is not new and will sneer that it is a fairy tale. Don’t listen to them . I enjoyed the movie and you will too.
Les Chorists ( The Chorus) has some things in common with As It Is In Heaven. It too is about the transformative power of music and it too was nominated for an Oscar (2004) and did not win. The movie is set in post WW II France in a boys school where the mild mannered Clement Mathieu arrives to take up his post as a prefect. The school is run with an iron fist by the tyrannical headmaster whom the boys both hate and fear. The boys themselves are a mix of troubled delinquents and some charity cases. They are unruly and disruptive and at first they turn on the newcomer with contempt. Things begin to change when he decides to harness their energies to form a choir. In this he is opposed by the headmaster every step of the way but gradually he wins the boys trust. They begin to change for the better and Mathieu even finds himself falling in love with the mother of one of them. Unfortunately things don’t always go smoothly and the film ends on a poignant yet hopeful note that is just right. In this film too, the acting is powerful and the story captivating. The music is heavenly and its worth seeing the movie just to listen to the angelic voices of the boys. Some have compared the movie to Mr. Hollands Opus and The Dead Poets Society. Not having seen either of those films , I’ve no basis for comparison. All I can tell you is that I thoroughly enjoyed The Chorus.