Dir: Dean DeBois. Iceland 2007. 97 mins.
The haunting music of Reykjavik-formed band Sigur Ros and the breathtaking beauty of the Icelandic landscape are showcased to impressive effect in the concert film Sigur Ros Heima. Taking its title from the Icelandic for 'At Home' or 'Homeland', the film follows the four-member group (whose number is occasionally swelled by the addition of string and other musicians) as they performed a series of free, mostly outdoor concerts around their native Iceland last year, following a taxing world tour.
Heima trades on the appeal of two of Iceland's most celebrated 'brands' - its thriving contemporary music scene and its stunning scenery - but its international reach is unlikely to make much impact beyond Sigur Ros' (admittedly robust) fan base. The film's warm reception at the 2007 Reykjavik International Film Festival, where it was the well chosen opening film, suggests Heima will do well among local audiences (who tend to support strongly Icelandic movies) during its October release.
Overseas, expect the film to enjoy the niche appeal of Screaming Masterpiece, a 2005 documentary on Icelandic music. Despite stunning views of the countryside surrounding the band's outdoor gigs that work best on the big screen, the film's natural medium is surely as a collectable DVD for Sigur Ros fans. (In the UK the DVD is released days after its November 2 release along with a companion CD Hvarf-Heim.)
The film introduces us to the band members in a series of static talking-head shots, as they reflect on their reasons for the Heima two-week tour. The title proves significant because the concerts were a kind of home-coming for Sigur Ros, an opportunity to reconnect with the Icelandic culture they'd missed during a long world tour. Working with footage of the 2006 gigs shot by Denni Karrison, director Dean DeBois (a fan of the band, best known for the animation Lilo & Stitch) gives equal prominence to each of the live gigs.
With the exception of the final-night show in Reykjavik, where glaring multi-media light effects accompany the soaring music, the gigs tended to be small-scale intimate affairs, including the sparsely populated village of Selardalur in the West Fjords of the island and the spooky interior of a former fish processing factory in the deserted outpost of Djupavik.
Shot in HD, the film favours static, clean shots of the band performing, an approach that underlines their musical range and collaborative skill: among the other musicians they work with are a local choir and brass band. DeBois cuts into these performances impressive shots of the Icelandic landscape, from the ash-dark earthy plains to mighty waterfalls (whose torrent DeBois plays in reverse in a rare, unnecessarily tricksy bit of post-production manipulation).
The connection between these scenes of Iceland's natural beauty and Sigor Ros' music is well made. The band themselves have acknowledged the influence of landscape in their music, and the ethereal, spatial ambience of their work finds an echo in the stark, seemingly limitless vistas captured here. The band's epic 'cinematic' sound, incidentally, has already featured on a number of movie soundtracks, and it was an early credit on Vanilla Sky that helped raise the band's international profile.
Alongside these peopleless landscapes DeBois also intercuts images of the locals, arriving at, then enjoying each gig. The rapt faces of the audience members, who seem to come from all ages, further convey the intensity of the gigs, and underscore the band's close relationship with their wider Icelandic community. This is touched upon in the interviews with the band themselves, who talk about the importance of music-making traditions in a small, remote island like Iceland, but not developed fully.
Throughout the band speak in English - which hints at a tension between the film's concern with Icelandic identity and its international ambitions. The most prominent Icelandic speaker is a local eccentric artist, who provides one of the film's few flashes of humour when he describes making musical instruments from 100-year-old rhubarb.
Technically the film is a polished, slick affair, with superb live recording, elegant editing and highly detailed cinematography that does justice to Iceland's scenery.
Klikk Film (Ice)
EMI Records (UK)
Icelandic Film Centre (Ice)
Jon Thor Birgisson
Orri Pall Dyrason
Executive Producers for EMI
Director of Photography