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Why would anyone want to see a film about the lives of people in a
mens' choir in Northern Norway? I first saw this film in Norway without
subtitles. As my command of Norsk is not so good, I missed much of the
nuance but still enjoyed this delightful film. I now own a copy with
subtitles and love sharing it with friends and family. As a
professional musician I delight in a story of music bringing people
from all walks of life and generations together. This film conveys that
It shows how economic and physical hardship and adversity are not barriers to a fulfilling and happy life. Some may think it trivializes the lives of the subjects of the film, but I feel it celebrates them. It shows us how all our lives however ordinary they may seem to us, can be inspirational to others.
Sport is often lauded for its heroes, yet this film conveys the team spirit of a mens choir striving for a collective and individual best. Their pride and enthusiasm is infectious and uplifting as is their earthy humour.
This film is all that a blockbuster is not. It is about the human condition, about community, about respect for others and about real people.
Like the choir from Finnmark, I had occasion to visit northern Russia during
the summer of 2000. They were as astonished as I to find a very sharp
contrast indeed between their settled, middle-class lives at home and the
chaotic waste of Murmansk. Yet they connected, as did I, with an initially
reluctant and sombre Russian people. Consider for a moment what a hellish
past those souls have to live with, compared with life in a northern
Scandinavian fishing village which, except for 1940-45, has been recently no
more than a leisurely slide into economic oblivion.
Listening to the casual words of the old Norwegian gentlemen as they bare their own personal histories, one senses this film is more than a documentary. It succeeds in assessing life much as a novelist might, engaging in subtle character sketches against the spectacular backdrop of midnight sun, roaring sea, blizzards, and the stark, ever-present silhouette of Arctic sky. It was like listening to one of Garrison Keillor's tales of "Norwegian bachelor farmers" who are a mainstay of Minnesota folklore.
As a sidenote, I was amused to hear the choir sing a hymn that was, if memory serves correctly, penned by a distant cousin of mine from Iowa in 1857. Sung with different words and in Norwegian, of course. It began life as "The Little Brown Church in the Vale" and has evolved into something sung with exactly the same sense as a memory of a white church in Finnmark.
Crossing boundaries often results in noting that life is very much the same everywhere among common folk. Wherever you go, there you are.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is unfortunate to hear that the English translation led to a "farce"
portrayal of these creative and passionate men. I saw the film while
living in northern Sweden (Kiruna), so the Swedish subtitles were
perhaps a little less shadowed with an unfortunate UK comedy
Understandably, there is a light heartedness to the film, but for me it paints a wonderfully soft and vulnerable side of these men that live and work in a land that is far from either. The "close and personal" time spent in their bathrooms, kitchen, and so on - although very out of place in north American culture - is simply a glimpse of the heart of most Scandinavians; be it from Stockholm or from Berlevåg. A comfortable sense of being and appreciation for creature comforts and enjoyed time - the kettle, coffee, preparing dinners, soaking in a bath, enjoying a cigarette... this couldn't be better shown than the bold image of big, hardy, bearded Norwegian enjoying a bubble bath.
Striking and possibly troubling image in north America, but completely understood in Scandinavia.
"why was this movie made". Well, here is my attempt to maybe give reason... as with any documentary following a group of people through their daily life - be it in Tibet, the outback or a tiny tribe in the Amazon - there rarely is a beginning, end, loss, gain or message delivered on a frying pan. This is simply a portrait of a group of men that amidst their hardships, lost loves, sacrifices, have found something amongst them that truly gives them reason. And that is probably enough reason for the film right there.
From softly sad stories of lost relationships and long faces, they transform the second they come together for their rehearsal; grinning from ear to ear, cheeks rising in to the squint of smiling eyes and a boyish excitement that moves over everyone.
In a land where men are demanded upon by their environment to live the harsh life that is expected of them, here is a group that lets its guard down, opens itself to heartfelt passion and creativity, and the enjoyment of shared times with close friends. Refreshing.
Fantastic film, beautiful contrasts and wonderfully Norwegian!
This is the only movie I ever watched twice in a cinema. The first time
I recall being confused at the end, being unable to tell if I was
laughing or crying. Never, ever, did I have a movie experience like
Unfortunately, if you are not Norwegian, and you can't understand what the people in the movie are saying you will necessarily lose out on a lot. (A lot of inexplicable value and detail is in how they talk.) Also, if you don't know much about Norway and the arctic region there are lots of things you won't understand. As a an example picked at random, if you're Norwegian, the first 30 seconds are a pretty poignant meditation on the poverty of state charity in the richest oil nation on earth, but if you are not Norwegian it will be utterly incomprehensible. (On the other hand, it's only 30 seconds, so if you're not Norwegian you can just watch that floating past and ignore it.) What I really loved about the movie is the way it shows normal people (for Northern Norway, which means they're not really normal at all) not going about their normal business, but talking openly and honestly about the things that matter the most to them in their lives. The scene where the communist (at 70 degrees north near the Soviet Union during the cold war this actually meant something) ruminating about his freewheeling former life as a punk rock singer while brushing himself in the bathtub is priceless. 2-3 minutes of that alone is worth the price of buying the movie, watching it 5 times, *and* learning Norwegian so you can understand what the hell the guy is saying. ("Thinking back it often makes me sad. *leisurely stroke of the brush* Oftentimes it was just pure lust. *brushing soap out of his beard* You know, being the vocalist, you would be the most attractive. *breaks off, stares at soapy water*) This may sound ridiculous, but watching the movie it is painfully clear that for the guy in the tub, what he's talking about is the high point of his life, and here he's offering it freely, with no reservations, in the movie. It's only a few minutes altogether, and it alone is worth more than I could tell you. You may laugh, or you may cry, or you may not know which.
And so it goes, throughout the entire movie. The characters are frequently hilarious, frequently murderously honest (the drug addict talking about how he'd meet the coastal ferry on the quay every day in the hope of a talent spotter spotting him; the church organist on how the Luftwaffe put a metal plate into his head; the drug addict on the joys (and troubles) of having his own apartment for the first time; the convinced communist crying at a war memorial across the Russian border; the whole choir wordlessly aghast at the environmental destruction at the metalworks in Nikel...), and never anything less than absolutely riveting.
I think I could probably retell this movie frame by frame, despite having watched it only twice. Most parts of it are indelibly etched on the insides of my eyes. Forty years from now I may have forgotten the names of my grandchildren, and still remember the guy who keeps the photo of his first sweetheart (from when he was 16) on the living-room wall, despite his wife's disapproval (shhh! he tells the camera (the CAMERA!), and who still brushes his hair for best effect (with water) at 75, vain as a peacock, and who doesn't care at all that the whole world gets to see all of this.
And so it goes, on and on, throughout the entire movie. These people lay their lives bare in details so poignant and telling that the mere thought of it fills me with awe, and the end is sad because it means the end of the movie. It's touching, ridiculous, painful, and unforgettable. If I could only keep one movie out of the hundreds I've seen, it would be this one, and I would consider the loss of all the others pretty cheap.
If you can't understand Norwegian dialect, multiply the above by 0.8, as much of the nuance of what is said will be lost on you.
"Heftig og Begeistret" is a truly wonderful movie. Within the limits of
a documentary, it says everything that could be said about life
generally and life in the North of Norway especially. The singers in
Berlevåg Mens-choir are the subject of the film, and we follow them for
about a year, both when they sing, and when they are at home.
The beauty of having men standing next to the great ocean, singing songs unaffected of the weather (they are singing in rain, snow, storm and midnight sun), cannot be explained, it must be viewed. Further, there's the great amount of funny one-liner's these old guys present to us. (As the 96 years old man says about his bedroom: "This used to be a working room, now it's a museum.")
Then again, the movie shows how politics have separated the world, even at a small place like Berlevåg. During their tour to Murmansk, communists among the singers clash with the others, as the destroyed nature of the former Soviet Union comes to view. And it's a strong scene when one of the old communists burst into crying when he comes to a memorial place from WWII.
Perhaps the genius of the movie is the fact that anyone can recognize the people in the movie with someone you already know.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What I thought was lacking an introduction, end, and a message, the
Norwegian documentary, Cool and Crazy directed by Knut Erik Jensen, was
quite different from any Hollywood style documentary I've ever seen.
The documentary followed an all male choir based in a small, rural
fishing town in BerlevÃ¥g, Norway. As the male choir is composed of
mainly older men, the majority of the documentary included personal
interviews with the various choir members sharing life stories.
Expecting an emphasized message of some sort or to be persuaded to act
on a certain social problem, I was slightly confused about what the
exact purpose and intent of the documentary was. While I felt slightly
disconnected from what was happening on screen, I noticed there were
outstanding aspects of Norwegian culture portrayed, overly simplistic
camera shots and dialogue, and a sense of nostalgia being expressed
through many of the men in the choir.
One overarching Norwegian aspect that is fundamental to Cool and Crazy is the portrayal of rural vs. urban landscape and the importance of nature and the environment to the Norwegian population. We see the extreme rural setting of BerlevÃ¥g during the various songs the entire choir sings throughout the documentary. For example, the first song the audience gets to watch is the choir singing in a barren, tundra setting with choir standing in mostly empty land. Throughout the documentary there are many still shots of solely the land and environment. Along with the emphasized idea of rural versus urban setting, another idea that is present in many Norwegian films is outsiders coming together and forming sense of family. The theme of outsiders in society is extremely apparent in each of the personal interviews because most of the men are living alone in an extremely small town. Many of the singers talk about their past lives with their loved ones, however many of them are now independent. All of them slowly becoming outsiders during their life, but they all discuss how the choir brings them together and forms a support system for one another. One singer says that choir practices are his favorite part of the day. The audience is given a close look at how landscape, nature, and the environment play a part of the Norwegian culture in a rural setting, as well as the role outsiders have in society.
In order to emphasize the setting and role of outsiders in the documentary extremely simple camera shots were utilized, as well as no added or pre-written dialogue during the film. The still shots of the landscape and environment that stayed on the screen for longer durations of time allows the viewer to really take in the cold, empty, rural land. I think these still shots were taken to impact the mood of the viewer, creating a sense of simplicity. Along with the continuous still camera shots, there is not added dialogue to the documentary. The only talking that carries the documentary are the interviews of the choir members. This is an interesting choice to centralize all the communication in Cool and Crazy on solely interviews. I thought this style of interaction was slightly boring because the interviews differed so much from each other that there wasn't a central theme or idea for the documentary to build off of. Other then the men all being in the same choir, it was though for me to follow along because there were just so many men sharing parts of their life stories. I had trouble extracting any sort of take home message from the documentary due to the way the filming jumped from interview to interview with no apparent connections.
By the end of the documentary, I started trace a sense of nostalgia that was expressed in the various interviews. The nostalgia beamed through when the men from the choir would talk about their past women and how they were so beautiful, how they missed them, and how those were the "good days". During one of the interviews a man commented on how he had tamed down immensely with women compared to back in the day. I think this idea of remembering and reminiscing the past is universally a significant aspect of people's lives, and this is what allows the viewer and the men being interviewed to make a connection.
While some interesting stories were shared throughout the interviews in Cool and Crazy, I had high hopes for this Norwegian documentary about the famous all men's choir from BerlevÃ¥g, but wasn't quite satisfied with what I watched on screen. Though there were interesting aspects of Norway's culture exhibited and the universal sense of nostalgia presented in the documentary that caught my attention, I think director Knut Erik Jensen could have created a slightly more cohesive, entertaining, and engaging documentary.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cool and Crazy is a heartwarming documentary that follows the lives,
thoughts and conversations of the men in a small-town Norwegian choir.
The film is characterized by its firm position in the normal and
everyday, as well as by an intense focus on the concept of contrast.
In the first part of the documentary, we are introduced to several of the members of the choir, and the setting in which they live. Through imagery that details the capture, cleaning, and processing of fish, it becomes clear that these men live in a small fishing village in Northern Norway, and that many of them earn(ed) their living as fishermen. Cool and Crazy makes no attempt to romanticize these jobs, and gives a realistic portrayal of the nitty gritty aspects of it through imagery of bloody fish heads and fish being processed through the machines. In fact, there is a significant and noticeable attempt in this film to portray everyday actions and conversations in a very realistic and normal way. This is done through conducting interviews in odd places, such as during a bath. This makes us feel like the interview wasn't staged, and we just happened to catch him doing his routine activities. In addition, the topics of conversation are generally nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, they aren't all necessarily even organized around a common theme, sometimes they are just about topics that the interviewee had on his mind at the time, and many of them are just normal conversations that were caught on tape. Although these conversations and topics are often interesting, they involve nothing extraordinaryand to that end, nothing extraordinary happens in the film either. There is no huge, built-up, exciting climaxthe closest thing to a climax is the choir's performance in Russia, but even this is just portrayed as another day in the life (although an exciting one). While this technique doesn't make for an exciting and action-filled movie, it is absolutely successful in other ways. The viewer gains respect for these down-to-earth men, who try to be nothing more than they already are.
Another important aspect of the film is the enormous contrasts that are portrayed. In particular, there is a huge contrast between the songs and the setting, in several ways. Firstly, the tone of the songs is jolly and bright, filled with hope and joy. However, the opening scene finds the men performing on the rocky ocean coast, in biting snowy and windy conditions. The men are bundled up in thick coats with red, wind-chapped cheeks, and snow in their beards. Yet not one shiver is shown, and they seem perfectly content performing in these conditions. The next song is performed in the pack house, amid the imagery that was mentioned earlier, of the fish being cleaned and processed. The jolly music, which speaks of the beautiful fish-packing 'ladies' and 'lasses', cuts through the bleak and grim imagery in an interesting way. The contrast between these lower-class fishing and packing jobs, with membership in a distinguished choira classy hobbyis ironic and impactful. Another interesting contrasted concept is the lack of religiosity among the choir membersespecially seen in the director's comments about being formerly atheistic (and currently agnostic). Yet many of the songs focus on Christian themes of faith.
Contrast is also portrayed in the wide variety of ages in the choir. While the youngest member seems to be in his thirties or forties, the oldest member is ninety-five. Many comparisons are made between the young and old members, and it is emphasized that it is the younger members' duty to take care of the oldest membersand they do a good job. Finally, when the choir takes a trip to Russia for their concert, the contrast between Norway and Russia is very clearand a long, heated discussion is devoted to emphasizing this fact.
Cool and Crazy is a film that is compelling because of the characters. The men in the choir are endearing, and often funny without knowing that they are. The humor aspect is also due to the striking contrasts. For example, the tone of the songs is humorous when they are filmed in the locations they are.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and I would recommend it to most. I would give it an 8/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cool and Crazy explores the lives of men who participate in an all-male
choir in Finnmark. The film covers a wide range of topics that are part
of the choir men's histories and daily lives. Basically, Cool and Crazy
is just a glimpse into the everyday life of these choir men. This
documentary investigates why the men participate in this choir, their
well-being, perspectives on religion and politics, and what it means to
live in a harsh place like Finnmark.
The men all have different reasons for their choir membership. Many of the men participate in the choir because it gives them a feeling of companionship. Some of the members are quite old and their significant others are deceased. One man described himself as 'a bit of a Casanova' in his youth but that all of that had stopped. In fact, men talked about female companionship more than they actually had it throughout the film. These men probably joined the choir for the companionship and interaction. Other men cited their musical drive as their purpose for participating in choir. One mentioned he wanted to be a pop star when he was younger. Another said he felt a need to play. He was versed in multiple instruments but said he was awful at all of them. Others said similar things like the need to belong and wanting to feel fulfilled.
Most of the men seem to be perfectly content with their way of life. One man said he had the opportunity to study engineering at a university some time ago but he would rather fish instead. He expressed his love for fishing and talked about how people needed fisherman. He felt much fulfillment with his life. On a similar vein, the drug addict, despite being homeless and using meth for 12 years, said that he had no regrets. He had stopped using drugs and talked fondly about his ex-wife and ex-girlfriends. The filmmakers followed one man to the doctor and listened as he explained he had never been skinny. This man had a bright attitude and even joked around with his friend about it. Most of the men had positive and carefree attitudes about life but some were a bit darker. The communist was a bit angrier than the rest of the men and engaged in political debates with other members of the choir.
Politics and religion are topics that every culture understands. The men in the choir are no different. The communist expresses his admiration for Lenin and the Soviet Union. He claims to have gotten less vocal with age but still vigorously defended the Soviet Union's actions. All the men share an intense dislike for Hitler and Nazi Germany which probably stems from the fact that a lot of the men lived through World War II. One man survived a German bombing that killed his brother when he was a boy. Watching the scene where the men honored those that died fighting the Germans in Russia was very touching. Some of the men also talk about their views on religion. Like the majority of Scandinavia, many of the men don't appear to participate in organized religion. The drug addict described himself as agnostic. Another man said he never went to church when he was younger, not even on Christmas, but he started going when he started playing the organ. Now that he goes, he thinks church attendance is a really good thing and it is part of his life.
The raw beauty of Finnmark is captured beautifully in this film. The cinematography of the men singing outdoors is fantastic. The environment is harsh and all of the residents of this town feel the strain of survival. In some of the scenes, it is difficult to hear the men over the snow or surf and they must sing together to make themselves heard. These scenes inspire the view to imagine the men are united against the harsh nature of Finnmark. One man says that the choir and the thing that keeps the surf from pounding in are the only things keeping the town alive.
Cool and Crazy is a great film that explores the lives of a close group of men in a very small northern town. What is remarkable is how relatable the men are despite the differences in nationality and age. Many of the men reminded me of my grandfathers because of their dispositions. Despite living in a harsh place, the men are happy and content with their home and choir.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In Cool and Crazy, we meet a group of Norwegian men who are all a part
of the men's choir in a little town called Berlevåg in Finnmark. In
between their performances, we get to hear some of the members talk
about their lives and how they ended up in the little isolated town
that has about 1,000 inhabitants. We get to follow them on a tour to
Murmansk in Russia, where they seem to be very popular. The director
Knut-Erik Jensen's unique way of portraying the individual characters,
themes, and culture in this documentary makes it an enjoyable
experience for someone that appreciates the northern Norwegian way of
The characters in this movie all have their own individual characteristics; however, they all share the stereotypical northern Norway attitude. They speak what's on their mind and they have a way with words that makes them come off as a little obnoxious. To an outsider, this behavior can be frightening or unpleasant, but this is a part of the culture and should not be taken personally. I think their unique humor and behavior is a huge part of this film that will disappear if the movie is watched with subtitles.
I would say the main theme in this movie is solidarity. One of the members in the choir claims that he would not be living in Berlevåg if it weren't for the choir. To me, living in a town only because you are a member of the choir requires some strong bonds. There is also a big gap between the oldest and the youngest person in the choir, and the older men show gratitude towards the treatment they get from the younger members. My experience with people from northern Norway is exactly that: they stick together and take care of each other. Solidarity is a key word in Norwegian culture and this movie illustrates the importance of this value.
This movie does a really good job of portraying the culture of a small town and the atmosphere of isolation in northern Norway. There is an eccentric vibe that is a result of the positive attitude to life that is typically found in this particular part of the country. The landscape is beautiful and by contrasting it with the grey and rocky landscape in Murmansk, Jensen is able to highlight the extreme environment that Finnmark offers. Most places in Norway are strongly influenced by other cultures; however, this movie proves that, due to the characters' traditional lifestyle, the influence has not reached all parts of Norway.
Jensen, originally from Finnmark, does an extremely good job of portraying the northern way of life. We get to see the choir perform songs in places that aim to emphasize the scenery in Finnmark. In between the performances we see personal interviews with some of the choir members. The filming during these interviews is very natural with a hand-held camera, which give the viewer a feeling of being present at the filming. In contrast, the performances were filmed with artificial light and a steady camera that made it look very professional. Jensen's use of close ups and varied camera angles allows the viewer to get personal with the characters they recognize from the interviews. Jensen's approach of portraying his message in this documentary is not the typical BBC approach. Instead of illustrating with facts, he lets the audience experience for themselves how the people in Berlevåg live their life.
Cool and Crazy is a documentary that seeks to capture the mysterious atmosphere of a small town in northern Norway. I think Jensen manages to do exactly that by getting personal with the characters and letting them talk freely about the aspects of life that interest them. Personally, I enjoyed the movie; however, I feel like it would have been hard to capture the detail around the special dynamics and atmosphere if I were unexposed to the northern Norwegian culture. Even more so, if I did not speak the language and were unable to pick up on the dialect and the unique humor and behavior that comes with it, I think I would have had a hard time sitting through it. Losing this aspect of the movie would make a huge difference.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sometimes it's easy to forget the little things in life. There are so
many things to keep us busy and to keep us moving along, with little
time to pause for a break. As a college student in the United States, I
often am kept very busy and being near a city, it's easy to forget a
lot of important things. Obviously the culture in Norway is different,
but I feel that the idea still applies. "Cool and Crazy" is a
documentary about a group of men in a choir in a small town in
Finnmark, in the northern part of Norway. I wasn't the biggest fan of
the film, but I tried to understand why it would be a popular film and
why others found it important.
This town in Finnmark was relatively isolated and untouched by some aspects of urban culture. It seemed to be mainly inhabited by elderly couples or single people. The choir is obviously a very important part of the community, and the documentary focused mainly on the choir. It was very different to the documentaries that I'm accustomed to seeing though. Everything was filmed with a hand-held camera on location. There were no interviews in studios or computer-generated sequences. I felt like this made it so much more real than what I'm used to seeing. The singing scenes were set up, but it seemed as though everything else was filmed as it was. They interviewed the men in their own homes, so the men continued to go about their daily life and talk to the camera about whatever they wished.
The film captured a number of aspects of life that seem to be often overlooked, but that are a part of daily life nevertheless. Personally, I don't see why it was necessary to film an elderly man in his bath tub or to go look in a man's closet, but it's true that those are parts of daily life. Everything seems much simpler in the film and life seems so much simpler. It seems that the men that were filmed had the time to do what they wanted and weren't pressured by society like so many people are today. They made sure to appreciate the little things in life.
The fact that the entire film was about older men was very different, because most films aren't about the elderly. It gave the viewer a different perspective. We are able to see more about their lives and what it's like living in an isolated town in northern Norway. It has a sort of mystical feel to it, the fact that it's so far removed from anything else. It seems as though it could also be a bit nerve-wracking, being in a tiny fishing village in northern Norway where it can obviously get extremely cold. To me, it doesn't seem like the most "comfortable" place to live, but everybody in the film seems extremely happy with where they are. It could very well be something that is just difficult for some people to understand if they've never experienced it.
As a native English speaker with only some knowledge of Norwegian, I found it difficult to understand a lot of what was going on, and I feel that a large part of what they were saying may have been lost in translation. A lot of what happened didn't make sense to me, which could be why I didn't like it very much. There didn't seem to be any sort of storyline at all, other than that the choir was going to go to Murmansk. Most documentaries seem to have an educational goal or idea, whereas "Cool and Crazy", as far as I could tell, was extremely random and followed no storyline. To be blunt, it was simply a mix of stories and interviews from a group of men who sing in a choir together and then get on a bus to go sing in Murmansk.
"Cool and Crazy" does a good job at portraying the normal, daily lives of the men in the choir and showing how some of the little things in life can be important too. That being said, it is certainly not a very gripping film. It really does show the daily lives of a number of men, and from my point of view, these men don't have extremely exciting lives. It's not something I would enjoy watching for an extended period of time. While it may be interesting to some people and have important cultural value to some people, I did not find it entertaining, gripping, or educational.
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