World

An Extraordinary Documentary About the Most Precious of Lives

It’s rare to see a film that feels not just poetic in nature, but like actual poetry. The rhythm and cadence, the imagery and metaphor, even the sense of movement and time that often accompany a great poem don’t translate easily to the screen. Filmmakers need a light touch and trust in the viewer to lean in and let their work wash over them, rather than trying to decode everything.

Margreth Olin somehow pulled it off — and in a documentary, no less. Her “Songs of Earth”(in theaters) is tough to categorize as anything other than poetry, though there are elements of nature photography and personal narrative woven throughout.

At the center of “Songs of Earth” are the relationship between Olin’s parents, Jorgen and Magnhild Mykloen, as they age, and the spectacular landscapes of her native Norway. The film moves through a cycle of seasons, during which the terrain changes from green to brown to white and back again. At the center of that terrain is Olin’s 84-year-old father, who returns repeatedly to the Oldedalen valley, in the western part of the country.

Olin’s father tells her stories of his life and their ancestors. She learns about tragedies, about surgery he underwent when he was young, about the way the world has shaped him and his life. Both of her parents — who have been married for 55 years — talk about their relationship and what the future may hold for them, with grief inevitably on the horizon.

The gentle stories are marked by periods of silence that are never silent: The earth produces its own noises of ripples and blusters and crackling, melting ice, sometimes harmonizing with a gorgeous score by Rebekka Karijord. It’s really quite an experience to watch, and what might tie it all together is Olin’s decision to film her father’s skin at very close range. There’s a point being made there: His wrinkles and crevasses echo the landscape, which has also been shaped by time and forces of nature. In the span of the earth’s life, an individual human’s time is minuscule, yet precious — we are the planet in microcosm.

It’s an altogether extraordinary film, one I’ve thought about often since I first saw it, and I’m delighted that it’s playing in theaters — the immersive nature of the sounds, music and landscapes are worth experiencing with the full concentration a cinema affords. But even if you can’t see it that way, it’s worth watching whenever it’s available digitally. Just make sure you close the door, dim the lights and give yourself the gift of being immersed in it fully.

Related Articles

Back to top button