SONGS OF THE EARTH – Review by Liz Braun

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

It is a privilege to see the film Songs of Earth.

Margareth Olin’s transporting documentary is an homage to family and to nature as it moves through all four seasons in Norway’s Oldedalen valley. Placing her elderly father in nature and at the centre of this immersive experience, Olin creates a thoughtful and visually stunning work about the passage of time and our connection to all living things.

Olin’s film represents a year spent walking with her father, Jorgen, in the area where both grew up in western Norway. Her father has always regarded going for a walk to be the solution to most of life’s issues, and so they set out together for this exploration of natural beauty.

In sight and sound, Songs of Earth is remarkable. Olin makes it clear in a prologue that her film is a love letter to her parents and ancestors and to the land they love so much. But the film is also a gentle reminder that all things must pass. Given that her parents are no longer young, her father’s comments on time, grief and the inevitability of generations following one another set the tone for what follows. The film is not bittersweet, exactly, but it is unusually affecting, and perhaps more so for any viewer who is likewise no longer young.

The film is devoted to the seasons and unfolds accordingly, starting with spring. Olin’s father fills in a few details of his own childhood, pointing out the family home — the farm dates from around 1600 — and a huge spruce tree planted by his grandfather at the turn of the last century.

More details about the place and its people, including various natural disasters, unfold in the summer section; autumn is suitably more sombre, with, for example, Olin’s father describing how the glacier has waxed and waned over his lifetime. Winter reflects the harshness of the season but also offers notions of hope and continuity.

These various stories are told against a background of extraordinary natural beauty. The camera (and cinematographer Lars Erlend Tubaas Oymo) examines every nook and cranny of the mountains and valleys, with a particular focus on blue ice and clear water — glacier melt, powerful rivers, cascading waterfalls. Olin places her father, usually seen walking, in vast landscapes that underscore how minuscule humans are — despite their outsized effect on the environment — and quietly makes a statement about stewardship of the planet.

Just as intense as Olin’s soaring landscape shots are her close-ups of her father: his aged skin, the palm of his hand, his lovely, weathered face. There are a few seconds of her mother and father dancing together in the movie, a glimpse of their wedding photo, her mother’s voice singing snippets of songs that praise the land. The past yields tales of births, deaths, weddings; the land gives life, the land takes life away. Somehow, through one family and one place in Norway, the filmmaker has captured all of us, everywhere.

With the help of supervising sound editor Tormod Ringnes, Olin has also captured the sounds of nature in a mesmerizing fashion. Everything from bees buzzing in summer flowers to the monumental sounds of mountain ice creaking and shifting seems profound here.

Songs of Earth is a slow, contemplative, must-see proposition. The film was Norway’s Oscar submission this year and made its North American debut at TIFF 2023, last fall.

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×

Liz Braun

Liz Braun has contributed entertainment stories in print and on radio and TV in Canada for 30 years. She served as film critic for the Toronto Sun and for the Postmedia chain of newspapers.