While studying abroad in Sweden I finally gave in to one of my heart’s desires – to be part of a choir – and it was one of the best decisions I made in that period of time. For the fall concert that year, we sang a popular Swedish song from a movie I had never heard of, Så Som I Himmelen (As It Is In Heaven). Seriously, Gabriella’s Sång is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever had the pleasure of learning how to sing but it is so much more powerful knowing the story to it, what it means in the context of the movie.
Daniel is an outcast in his childhood, living somewhere in northern Sweden. His heart’s desire is to make music that people can relate to and love and that’s all he does until he had a heart attack and takes a break to return to his childhood town. There, people recognise him for being a famous conductor but don’t know he grew up there.
Even though nothing was farther from his mind than to lead a rural choir, he caves and goes to listen to them rehearse one evening and decides to take them on.
It’s a small town, people know each other very well but things are far from perfect. Gabriella has an abusive husband. Everyone knows about him beating her regularly but nobody does anything. The priest just preaches each week but nobody ever has the guts to do anything about it. Daniel sees it and tries to fight Conny but can’t and ultimately, he can only do as much until Gabriella finds it in herself to fight Conny, really fight back.
Similarly, Lena is perceived as a slut because she has one boyfriend after another. She once was in love with a local doctor but he turned out to be married and having kids in Stockholm. Again, everyone knew but said nothing. Just like everyone laughed along with Arne calling one of the guys Fatso.
This speaks volumes as to those kind of communities; sometimes it takes an outsider to shake things up and to make people realise how wrongly they are treating each other.
So Daniel works with the choir, teaches them what it really means to make music with their bodies because singing is feeling; it’s harmony and trust. He writes a song for Gabriella to perform at their concert and she is to sing the solo. It’s his way of teaching her to break free, to see she can be so much more. It’s one of the most amazing sentiments you can do for someone, in my humble opinion. He didn’t push her to find her inner strength but gently nudged her into her own path.
Ultimately, Gabriella leaves her husband which makes me so proud. The movie couldn’t be more Swedish if it tried. Maybe if there were ABBA dancing in the background. Singing is as much part of the Swedish life as moose are in their wildlife. After our fall concert we went to celebrate at a restaurant in which we randomly started singing from time to time. The other customers didn’t complain but clapped and cheered for us. I couldn’t have imagined this playing out similarly in Germany.
Så Som I Himmelen couldn’t be more honest and heartfelt if it tried. I didn’t understand it fully when I first saw it four years ago. It’s not an easy film to take in, especially while watching it in Swedish with English subtitles for the first time. Maybe it’s also the fact that I grew up more over the past four years.
Domestic abuse is an important topic to tackle. It’s not easy and pretty ugly but the message here, to speak up for yourself and other people instead of closing your eyes to everything that doesn’t concern you personally, is a powerful one.
The end of the movie isn’t pretty, it tugs even more at your heartstrings than some parts in the middle do. But it’s also so much like real life, joy and sadness often go hand in hand or follow suit. It makes this so much more powerful.
In short, if you haven’t seen this movie, please do so. It’s on Netflix in the US. I guess this post is in large part here to say: I get it! In finally get why this is such a great movie. It’s not light but so, so good. And it also gives me lots of nostalgia and homesickness for a home that isn’t really mine.