TIFF 2023 Review: The Echoes of Nature Reverberate in Margreth Olin’s Sensational “Songs of Earth”

It’s one of nature’s wonders when life can find a way, as Jorgen Mykloen notes in “Songs of Earth,” looking at the flowers that sprout from indecipherable crevices between the rocks on the mountains of the river valley of Oldedalen in Western Norway. They give a shade that’s unique, the 84-year-old says, having spent his life in the region where in speaking about the flora that’s flourished in a seemingly inhospitable environment could sound like he’s talking about himself and his wife Magnhild, who may not have many neighbors but wake up each morning to some of the most beautiful landscapes the world has to offer. The couple are quite radiant all on their own, with filmmaker Margreth Olin shrewdly combining a loving illustration of their connection to one another while extending that to the place they inhabit and care about just as deeply.

There may be a little less wonder these days in visiting the most remote places on earth cinematically when between modern camera equipment and the internet, access to them isn’t quite as difficult as it once was, but it’s restored by Olin when having her parents serve as a guide, shaping what you see with a personal history that gives an appreciation for how both the land and the people that pass through it endure. It seems that the drones deployed to capture breathtaking overhead shots have an even more unique curvature to them when Jorgen and Magnhild join one another in duets where she sings traditional hymns and he speaks in verse, adding the culture that’s formed around the region in which words may not do justice to the scenery, but they’ve become sustenance in isolation. The family’s roots in Oldedalen trace back generations and after being born with feet that had to be heavily reoriented before he could walk, Jorgen made it his mission to hike as much as he could, still gingerly taking steps across glaciers and rocks with a pair of walking sticks to this day.

To persevere, however, is to see so much else perish over the years and while not overtly a film about environmental issues, “Songs of Earth” finds an unorthodox way to consider them when Jorgen has lived long enough to see glaciers recede and landslides threaten and overtake the farms below. His longetivity is surely admirable, but it also means he’s had to develop a thicker skin to deal with considerable loss and Olin draws a sharp parallel with the terrain he treads, capturing the ways in which nature protects itself and wondering about what the earth can withstand as Jurgen’s own mortality is in question simply because of his age. The film gets under the skin as well with Rebekka Kariford’s soul-stirring score and the care in which cinematographer Lars Erlend Tubaas Øymo and drone photographers Herman Lersveen and Dag Asle Mykløen compose images that express how alive the landscape is, whether peeking over the top of a waterfall or pulling ice shelves into the deep focus where one can begin to see how fluid movement is within them, arousing all the senses when you can hear every pop and crackle in the intricate sound design. Moving through the four seasons from spring to winter, there is the feeling that the ground is always shifting beneath one’s feet, but Olin affords the precious opportunity to stand still and take things in, entranced by the majesty of nature and all too conscious of its transience.

“Songs of Earth” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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