The small coastal town of Berlev in north-eastern Norway, 250 miles inside the Arctic
Circle, supports a long-established male-voice choir. Most of the 30-odd members of
the choir are elderly; but despite this and the harsh climate, they practise their singing
with dedicated enthusiasm. We see them performing in a wide range of venues, both
indoors and out, and hear from the choir's conductor and many of its members.
Finally we see them travel to a choral festival at Murmansk in Russia, where they are
In Dennis Potter's television masterpiece The Singing Detective (1986), the
hospitalised hero Philip Marlow, about to have his privates greased by the delicious
Nurse Mills, desperately tries to calm his raging libido by thinking of "something very
very very boring, for Christ's sake. A speech by Ted Heath -- a long sentence from
Bernard Levin -- a Welsh male-voice choir.
..". Had the idea of a geriatric Norwegian
male-voice choir occurred to him, he might well have thought it even more anti-
aphrodisiac. He'd have been wrong, though. For all that the members of the Berlev
choir live on Norway's arctic northern coast, and that most of them are well on the
wintry side of 60, their amorous instincts burn undimmed. The prospect of a trip to
Murmansk and the chance of getting to grips with some pretty Russian women excites
them no end -- much to the amusement of their own womenfolk.
Not that singing takes second place. "What a precious thing is singing," muses one
choir member, and their cheerfulness and enthusiasm are seemingly unfailing. They're
always ready to turn out and sing lustily, even standing on the seafront in the teeth of
a howling midwinter blizzard, and they take in their stride the verbal abuse of their
wheelchair-user conductor. ("This will be our worst concert ever. You sound like
shit!") Given the age of most of the participants, and the collapse of the local fishing
industry, one might have expected Knut Erik Jensen's film to be an affectionate study
in elegiac decline (his 1993 film Stella Polaris was also set in an area of northern
Norway dependent on arctic fishing). Affectionate it certainly is, but the overall tone
is anything but doleful; the humour, resilience and sheer sense of enjoyment the men
generate are irresistible.
Jensen's delight in his subjects is palpable, and he evidently put them at their ease.
The men chat unselfconsciously to camera, revealing an engaging variety of
idiosyncrasies. There's the irreligious church organist, insecurely picking out a tune
("I'm a multi-instrumentalist -- but I'm not very good at any of them"); the staunch
left-winger, still proud to describe himself as a socialist and a communist though
"politically dead for years", who nonetheless gets in a furious argument with his
fellow choir-members as they travel through Russia, and reverently salutes a
memorial to the Red Army dead of Word War II; and the self-styled former Casanova
("Now I have anchored up, more or less. Only casual affairs from now on"), whom we