I have read several reviews that ask the question, "Why was this film made"? I myself found that question looming in my mind as the hour and twenty minute feature seemed to drag near the middle, only to give off the sensation that it was picking up steam at the end, when in actuality it was doing nothing of the sort. So, "Why was this film made"? I think that is a great question for those watching Heftig og begeistret to ask themselves. This reviewer is proud of director Knut Erik Jensen for giving us this powerful image of hope, brotherhood, and inspiration with this all male choir, but I do not think that Jensen did enough to bring a gripping story to the table. Let me pose this question to you, "Do audience members need more in a documentary than just a straight forward story to maintain interest"? My answer is yes, and this is where Jensen failed. Heftig og begeistret was a good documentary, but it was far from great. Jensen did a horrible job with the story and dedication of the subjects. It was great to hear the songs, but over time, those songs seemed dull, overwhelming, and a bit precocious. From the opening scene where our men are singing their hearts out in a blinding snow, I knew that I was hooked, but as the film developed I lost interest. Why? Jensen never took us, the audience members, to the next level. He kept the playing field level and ultimately hurt the overall tone of the film. Was this a movie about the music or about the men in the choir? The world may never know.
Again, I would like to state that Jensen did a phenomenal job of finding an interesting story about this group of men who have definitely seen hard times and how they coped with that through music, but it was as if the all male choir were a bunch of the most boring men ever created. Jensen gave us the music superbly, but it was the characters, the subjects, that I knew nothing about by the end of the film. In the mix we had a 97 year old man who still had his driver's license, we had a large man in a tub singing classic American songs, we had old men who were once heartthrobs in their youth, we had some tension between the youth of the choir and the veteran singers, and we even had an ex-drug addict that had only been clean for eleven years. Did Jensen develop these interesting stories at all? Nope, he left them on the table. It was obvious that these singers were willing to talk further about it (see the political man who missed his political days), but Jensen seemed to clear away from those heartfelt moments and head straight back into interesting places that he could have the choir sing. To me, the music was defined at the beginning of the film, I wanted to be introduced and hear the stories of these individual men. They were all captivating, yet Jensen seemed to ignore them completely.
By ignoring the major subjects of this documentary, Jensen became unsuccessful in creating any sort of tension towards the end. Without giving the ending away, I felt like Jensen was coloring in the lines. Instead of being bold outside the lines, he chose to create no moment of sympathy, emotion, nervousness, or sadness. Jensen took our subjects from point A to point B to point C without asking us to become involved in any way shape or form. I can see how national sentiment had made this film into a huge success in Norway, but for everyone else watching (i.e. ME) more was necessarily needed. I wanted to feel for these guys. I wanted to know if they were going to do well as they traveled, or just find themselves loved in their own city. There was no story, mostly in part to no development of the subjects. When you watch modern documentaries (oddly, this film was made in 2001), you want it to play out similar to any Hollywood feature film. You want suspense, realism, and drama, alas, with Heftig og begeistret you get nothing of the sort.
Overall, I must ask the question again, "Why was this film made"? My final answer Alex, is that Jensen wanted to show how troubling times and a changing economy can still produce happiness in even the coldest places of Earth. I think that Jensen wanted to show human dedication and how something as simple as singing can unite a population. With that said, Jensen demonstrated that perfectly in this film, but he did not create a good documentary. When you make a film of this nature, I feel that you must look within the group, examine the choir participants and hear each one of their stories to bring about an ending that will grip your heart. The only thing that this film gripped was my attention span as it attempted to leave the room at rocket speed. Again, I do not want to sound negative about this film because the music was excellent and the men singing did bring about a feeling of honesty, but I needed more. With documentaries becoming a bigger staple of the film community, one expects a bit more than what Heftig og begeistret handed to us. I want to see reality and people, not just another song and dance routine!
Grade: ** out of *****
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