Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Kay Pollak
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Frida Hallgren, Lennart Jahkel, Ingela Ollsen
(Not Rated, 127 min.)
"The first duty of love is to listen." Paul Tillich
When a heart attack cuts shorts the international career of a renowned Swedish conductor, he returns to the small village of his childhood, and in a sense, begins his life anew. What he has failed to learn from the grand symphonies of Europe he begins to learn from the ordinary voices of the church choir he reluctantly agrees to direct.
In a sense, a return to the village is a strange choice, since it holds some unhappy memories, as the audience sees in an opening vignette where a young Daniel is playing his violin in a wheat field, the golden shafts blowing in the breeze as he draws his bow over the strings, when he is brutally attached by three boys. His mother quickly moves him to another town where he becomes a child prodigy.
Tragically, though, as we glimpse ever so briefly on screen, his mother is killed in a traffic accident as she crosses the street to meet her son. He is about to compete in a contest reserved for virtuosos and stops practice to wave to her from the second story window as she arrives. Ironically, and in a way guaranteed to induce guilt, it is when she looks up at him to wave that the car hits her.
Fast-forward about 25 years and we see the internationally acclaimed Daniel (Michael Nyqvist) at work. He is a perfectionist, raging at the orchestra if it is not up to his standards, and so spellbound by the music he is directing – in this case Wagner’s Das Rheingold -- that he fails to see the blood streaming from his nose onto the score. After he collapses off stage, his doctor tells him his heart cannot take any more of this life; the stress would kill him. So he returns to his old village looking for peace, obscurity, and perhaps oblivion.
Since he has gone by the stage name Daniel Dareus from the age of 15, the villagers know him only as the famous conductor and not the youth from their village. While Daniel, in his voice over narration, confesses that he does not know the reason he has chosen to return to this boyhood village, one cannot help but wonder if he intuitively knows he has some unfinished business there.
First he was whisked away from the bullies by his perhaps overprotective mother, and then from the death of his mother into the whirlwind of professional touring by his ambitious agent. He may think he seeks to retire from life there now, but in reality, perhaps Daniel really seeks to re enter it on his own terms, to do what he had always wanted, “to create music that will open people’s hearts.”
There is no great orchestra here, merely the local church choir, and after the audience shares a courtesy call Daniel makes on them, we are well aware that they are at best, uninspiring, mouthing the church hymns with that lackluster Lutheran spirit Garrison Keillor routinely skewers on hisPrairie Home Companion.
Maybe it’s their very mediocrity and Daniele’s lack of experience in teaching voice that changes the dynamics here. Daniel, the taskmaster conductor begins to remember that music is all about listening. He consults a friend and begins to retrain the choir, albeit in some unconventional ways. They do breathing exercises and even lie down with their heads in each other’s laps to feel their diaphragms working. Clearly, some of the scenes in this 2005 Best Foreign Film Oscar nominated film resemble the similar unorthodox exercises from this year’s Oscar favorite, The King’s Speech. As Daniel pushes each member of the choir to find his unique voice, he begins to find his as well, opening himself in slow faltering steps to the human emotions he has tuned out most of his life.
But these unconventional methods cause some problems, too. And the brilliance of this film is that these problems we see are easily those that we could encounter in any such group, be it our own local church choir, the PTA, or our monthly book club. For a gray-haired choir member finding his voice is confessing a life long love held dormant in his heart for decades. The mentally disabled and thick-tongued young janitor finds his less than perfect voice and stammers his way into the group. The wife of the church minster cries out against the stain of sin confined to her gender by a puritanical church. A protest can be exquisite, too, as in the pure and crystal notes of Gabriella (Helen Sjoholm) whose mere participation in the choir rains down brutality from her abusive husband. And it is in choir practice that Lena (Frida Hallgren) finally lashes out against those who condemn her "wanton ways" while ignoring their contribution to them.
Some choose not to join their voices to the song. One is the prim minister who reads his pornography in secret while he condemns the choirmaster for unnamed and unwarranted moral trespasses. Another is the equally prim ex choir leader, disguising her bitterness at being displaced with feigned righteous indignation.
Ultimately, though, it is the power of the acting and the ensemble performance that sets this film apart. It reminds us that Hollywood, for all its glitter, glamor, and star power is just that, an industry organized around “reel” people, poor players that strut and fret their hour upon the stage, telling tales full of sound and fury and often signifying nothing.
Daniel teaches his new choir many things, but they teach him as well. The most important and the hardest for him to learn is how to relax. When they first suggest pausing their practice for a coffee break, he resists and we are reminded of his single-minded devotion during the Wagner episode that sent him here to begin with. Finally, lured by the sweet smells of the kitchen, the strong coffee and the rich pastry, he relents.
And you would, too, with these sweet delicious Pannkakors beckoning, light, thin, and buttery, the Scandinavian version of crepes. Fill with jam and sour cream for breakfast or dessert, or perhaps meat or shrimp for a light dinner.
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 3 tablespoons butter (melted additional butter to cook crepes)
- sour cream (to garnish)
Prep Time: 5 mins
Total Time: 15 mins
- Blend all ingredients in a food processor until combined.
- Heat a 7-inch nonstick or cast iron skillet until hot.
- Add a small amount of butter and immediately pour in one ladle full of batter.
- Quickly tilt pan to spread batter evenly over the bottom.
- When pancake edges are dry and bubbles begin to appear in the center, flip it with a spatula and cook the other side until lightly brown.
- Repeat with the remaining batter, stacking the pancakes on a plate.
- Serve sprinkled with sugar, Lingonberry Preserve, and sour cream as dessert or breakfast, or use fillings of choice and eat as a light supper.
Recipe Source: food.com