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Savant Short Review:

Cool & Crazy

Cool & Crazy
First Run Features
2001 / Color / 1:66 flat letterboxed / 89 (orig, 105) min. / Heftig og begeistret
Starring Berlevag Mannsangforening, Odd Marino Frantzen, Einar F.L. Strand, Arne Wensel, Kare Wensel, Arne Blomso, Leif Roger Ananiassen, Eirik Daldorff, Odd-Arne Olsen, Eirik Nilsen, Nils Gronberg, Reidar Strand, Ragnar Rotnes, Randulf Antonsen, Ole Jonny Larsen, Einar Kristian Straumsne
Cinematography Aslaug Holm, Svein Krøvel
Film Editor Aslaug Holm
Produced by Jan-Erik Gammleng and Tom Remlov
Directed by Knut Erik Jensen

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

After a slow start, Cool & Crazy becomes an endearing portrait of a half-dozen Norwegian men living in what looks like the coldest place on Earth. With narrative interrupted by frequent choral performances out in the freezing snow in all kinds of weather, we can't help but love the spirit of these guys. Their sentimentality and sense of humor are infectious.


A number of mostly elderly gentlemen in the tiny seacoast town of Berlevåg, Norway, consider choir practice the highlight of their week. We hear and see them talk about themselves and their quiet lives. Eventually, they take an extended bus ride to Murmansk, across the border in Russia, to perform.

It is what it is and it's not going to appeal to those who can't wait to get back to Star Wars or Spiderman. Frankly, it helps to have a few years on you to appreciate the great bunch of men you meet here. It's not that we're given any deep insights into human nature here. Cool & Crazy just lets these guys talk, whether it's making fun of each other over the potato pot, or reminiscing about their checkered pasts. We get a good idea of what life might be like way North of the Arctic Circle, where the only real livelihood is the town's one remaining fish cannery.

Cool & Crazy stars some rather old people, in this case, a batch of extremely healthy-looking elderly gentlemen, something which is always encouraging to see. Pay attention to their (subtitled) small talk, and you find some wild senses of humor. One fellow says he used to be quite the Casanova, but that he finally 'pulled up anchor' a few years ago. One takes us into his bedroom, which 'used to be a workhouse, but now is a museum.' It's pretty fun to watch these guys, who are simply too spry to be geezers. One dolls himself up to sing and then lets us know with a big smile how, 'I really like women. I really do.' One really ancient specimen trades quips with his wife, and finally admits with a sly grin that, 'Men up in these parts just don't die off naturally. You have to shoot them.'

Their pasts are quite varied. One loves being a fisherman, even though he was good in Math and could have attended college in Strondheim. Another confesses that as a boy he sang to the boats that came in on the dock, just in case there was a talent agent aboard one of them. Another clean and tidy gent, who looks like the perfect grandfather, recounts decades of drug abuse. But he's been clean for years and has no regrets.

They love to sing, and they're proud of singing what seem to be old-fashioned Norwegian songs, with perhaps a hymn or two thrown into the mix. We're shown them singing in a group, led by their wheelchair-bound director, out in the snow and atop ridges where I don't think I could stand still for more than a few seconds without shaking with cold. Eventually, the point of these segments comes through: they're proud of themselves and their land and their singing and it's as simple as that. Instead of some kind of Monty Python satire, the dignity of these guys comes through.

For an interesting finish, we accompany this gang of adventurers to a singing engagement in Russia, at Murmansk. This, I believe, is the Arctic port city where convoys took millions of tons of aid to Russia in WW2. As soon as they cross the border and see the landscape blighted by environmental pollution, arguments break out on the bus. One of the choir is a closet Communist, and he takes grave offense at his fellows' condemnations of the Soviet system and its despoiling of the land. These 70 year-old men are brought to tears at the idea of ruining the good Earth, and all of a sudden their own (to us) bleak Berlevåg looks like heaven. The argument gives us a nice look at how men in a neutral country view U.S. and Russian competition; the only agreement comes when all are standing repsectfully under a colossal monument to the Soviets who died fighting Germans, 55 years ago. Most of these guys have first-person memories, including one fellow who tells us how his brother and friends died in a German bombing of Berlevåg when they were kids.  1

This outpost of Russia looks like little more than depressing housing projects and rundown industrial plants, but when they get to their hotel, things pick up. The place is crawling with women, and our Norwegian casanovas suddenly have greatly improved morales. The couple of them who know more than a few Russian words have a big advantage. For the local ladies, the Norwegians with their manners (and the fact that they just look so clean) seem to be in demand. Despite some trepidation, the choral performance is well-received by an auditorium full of very pleasant and appreciative Russians. Nobody, Norgwegian or Russian looks the slightest bit alienated, backward, or deprived for living in such a remote corner of the globe.

First Run Features' DVD of Cool & Crazy is a very pleasant show. I can't be sure, but it looks as if it were shot in PAL digital video and converted to NTSC. Sometimes the image is film-like, but the conversion gives it a video look as well. The subtitles are easy to read, with the exception that whoever produced them allowed some far-right letters to be cropped off once in awhile. It's no big flaw. The subs cannot be removed.

A little more clumsy are the cuts made to the picture. Sixteen minutes were lopped out for export, and in several places there are edits with flash-frames revealing a field or two of excised material. As I can't see Cool & Crazy becoming more exciting if it were longer (it's on the slow side as it is), I just hope that no transcendant footage was jettisoned. Watching this, you can't tell if the director would be infuriated, or just glad that his show was picked up for US distribution.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Cool & Crazy rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: Trailers, photos, text bio and choir roster
Packaging: Alpha case
Reviewed: January 23, 2002


1. My name is Erickson but I'm mostly Swedish-Irish; the Scandinavians I admire most are the Danish and Norwegians. After reading tons of depressing material about how country after European country fell to Nazi invasion or folded under collaboration, the only consolation was to read about the Norwegians' clear-headed, single-minded resistance. When these guys say things were tough in the war, they use a lot of understatement. They don't hide their delight at the thought of the pretty women in Murmansk, and they don't hide their tears when they visit the War monument. Maybe they're as pigheaded and flawed as everyone else, but my illusions about Norwegians are a reassurance I need; this is how people should be.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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