The Scandavians seem to have a talent for making likeable films with likeable characters. Italian for Beginners is probably one of my all time favourites, and shares many of the same elements as As it is in Heaven.

The story centres on Daniel, a conductor who returns to his home village after collapsing at the end of a concert. You might guess that he’s a little intense. His manager cancels the world tour, and off Daniel sets for Sweden. It’s something of a cathartic trip for Daniel who was bullied as a child, only to be taken away someplace safe by his widowed mother. He even ends up living in the old primary school!

Much like Italian for Beginners the outsider is immediately welcomed, and it’s through his positive influence that the villagers are able to heal old wounds, open up their own experiences, become closer to one another by playing together in the local choir, and generally learn to get on.

What’s most interesting about the film is that while it’s sentimental, it’s not overly dramatic. There’s nothing worse than a bad combination of the two. When drama is played out, it tends to be understated, with key interactions between characters left unstated and the meanings implicit. Where an American film would have people constantly explaining their behaviour to the audience, As it is in Heaven lays the story open, but doesn’t labour it.

It’s obvious from the outset that Daniel is destined for heaven, and much of the tension hinges on which of the estranged characters in the village will snap and bump him off. Is it the uptight Pastor who refuses to unlease his inner self? Is it the jealous husband, with virtually no self-control, who used to give Daniel ‘the bash’ when they were kids? Or will Daniel’s own inability to open himself, though he is a man of passion, cause him to snap?

In combination with some great music (listen for the Celine Dione soundalike), some touching moments, and characters who seem to heal from hidings with superhuman speed, the film hangs together well and is well recommended.

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