(Beggars Banquet) Jonsi Birgisson, Georg Holm, Kjartan Sveinsson, Orri Pal Dyarson, Amiina, Hildur Arsaelsdottir, Maria Huld Markan, Edda Run Olafsdottir, Solrun Sumarlidadottir. Directed by Dean deBlois
Music can be transcendent and cathartic. It bridges cultures and unites the most diverse of people. It is the glue that brings families together and makes memories live. It is beautiful and can be understood even if the language being sung is unfamiliar.
The band Sigur Ros got together without the expectation of fame or fortune. They just wanted to make music that spoke to them. When one of their songs appeared in the film Vanilla Sky, soon other songs began appearing in commercials and different movies. Soon, they were critical darlings and selling records at an amazing rate. A world tour followed, as such things inevitably will.
When the band arrived home, one gets the impression they didn’t quite know what to make of their fame and fortune. After all, their music isn’t the sort that gets played on “American Idol” much. It is beautiful, almost reverent at times. It is contemplative and heavily orchestrated. It’s not even sung in an actual language most of the time – vocalist Birgisson more often than not uses nonsense syllables in a language translated roughly in English as “Hopelandic,” a mixture of Icelandic and the literal translation of their first album.
Thinking a “thank you” to their friends and family who stuck by them might be in order, the band set out to perform a series of free concerts around their island nation. Some, as in the capital of Reykjavik are large, traditional affairs but they also performed on hillsides, in abandoned factories and small cafes. Few of the shows were announced beforehand. They also played an acoustic show at a protest camp near the construction site for a large dam meant to generate power for an aluminum smelting plant for American industrial giant Alcoa. The dam would end up submerging pristine Icelandic wilderness beneath dark waters.
Some of the shows are witnessed by little more than disinterested sheep; others by family members nodding along to the music in quiet satisfaction, others by large groups of people chatting amongst themselves over the music. Director deBlois intersperses footage of the band performing (often in an almost music video kind of live setting) with gorgeous footage of Iceland, windswept plains, verdant grassland, majestic waterfalls, modern cityscapes.
Birgisson sings in a falsetto that is almost otherworldly. It complements the music perfectly. DeBlois has a wonderful eye for textures, and his imagery is often haunting, even in the most mundane of settings. The results are a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.
Heima can be translated not only as “at home” but also “homeland.” This is a love letter from a band to its native land, to the people who have supported it and to their families. While there are interview segments in between songs, the concert footage rarely shows the band addressing their audience directly. They are one of the most intensely musical bands I’ve ever witnessed, so involved in their music that there’s almost nothing else in their field of vision. Maybe that’s why the music is so powerful.
I’m not into concert films at all. I’ve seen several over the years and for the most part, they rarely capture the experience of a live appearance, or worse yet, fail to encapsulate the essence of the band. You leave having no understanding of the band or their music. While I’d be the first to say that you won’t gain much of an understanding of the people who make the music that is Sigur Ros, you will get a glimpse into the things that inspire them, motivate them and bring them joy. In short, you get an insiders look into their soul. This is a magnificent, magical film.
WHY RENT THIS: The extraordinary music of Sigur Ros gets inside your soul and brings serenity, and the gorgeous imagery from deBlois complements the music perfectly. This is flat-out one of the finest concert/music films I’ve ever seen.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Most of the songs are sung in a variation of Icelandic and the interviews are a bit vague.
FAMILY VALUES: Perfectly suitable for any family.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director deBlois’ previous film was the Disney animated feature Lilo and Stitch.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A second disc of 25 complete live performances, including some that are only partially shown in the film.
FINAL RATING: 9/10
TOMORROW: Inglorious Basterds