Directed by Knut Erik Jenson, starring The Berlevag Male Choir.
Already a national treasure in its native Norway, Knut Erik Jenson's 'Cool & Crazy' arrives to club cinema under a weight of expectancy after it became the darling of film festivals around the globe last year. It follows the fortunes of a male choir in Berlevag, in the vast, rugged and infinitely inhospitable northern region of Norway. But although Jenson's film is of that peculiarly insular, homespun variety, it nevertheless manages to fend off the blight of boredom with its sheer exuberance and authentic appreciation of its subject.
Berlevag, a small town with a population of just 1,200, effectively stands on the edge of the world with a crystalline vista of the North Pole. But what was once a thriving fishing community has been decimated by the advent of globalisation and increasing technology. Many of its processing industries have long since ceased to operate while the strengthening hold of the bigger industry players has forced many of its citizens to move further south to the cities in search of employment and, in some cases, more exciting lifestyles. For those who have remained, there are still, commendably in view of the effects of modern society, a variety of community groups in which to access a sense of collective worth.
One such group is the Berlevag male choir, a group of singers ranging in age from 29 to 96. Jenson's camera captures the individual hopes, regrets and idiosyncrasies of the choir members, building it into a collage of humanity in the most ordinary, yet extraordinary, manner. The legacy of the piece is to evince a group of disparate characters who appear lost without the unifying baton of the choir – unfulfilled in the micro, complemented in the macro.
'Cool & Crazy' is effectively a 'docu-musical', and this is what actually saves it. Had Jenson chosen to make a dramatic feature about the choir, one suspects it would have had none of the innocent charm which gives this its appeal. Okay, it's certainly not for everyone, but the fact that it has earned 10m kroner (€1.3m) so far, an extraordinary sum for an effort of its type, is a clear indication that this has an allure beyond that of its ilk. Perhaps the reason for its relatively overwhelming success lies in its exploration of the traditions and customs of a particular society, and how these traditions, and the societies themselves, are coping in a world of increasing globalisation.
The Berlevag choir members are not exactly cool, and they're not (yet) crazy, but they do make for a nice film – and that's 'nice' without all the negative qualities that word has come to connote.