Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Sigur Rós is a four-piece Icelandic band that has turned the concept of popular music, as personified by multimillion dollar stadium tours and Pop Idol reality shows, upside down. They are closer to classical than Purple Rain and have a haunting, ethereal sound and stage presence, devoid of egocentric posturing. To call them unconventional, serious, passionate and committed is to state the obvious. They are, like their compatriot Bjork, unique.

After 13 months of world touring, they decided in the summer of 2006 to give a series of free concerts throughout Iceland as an act of gratitude. To whom? Their homeland? Arctic gods of creativity? Music teachers? Since they would be travelling with a party of 40, an all girl/all strings backup band (Amiina) and a camera crew for the forthcoming documentary, originally titled Lost In The Lava, this sounds like a public relations exercise.

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The result is as far from showbiz hype as it is possible to be. With the exception of the two largest gigs, there was no public announcement of where they would be appearing, relying instead on word-of-mouth. Since the venues were as varied as a disused herring factory, a tea room, a cave, a dam-building protest camp in the pristine wilderness and a field somewhere, as the sun dipped momentously below the horizon, the audiences were enterprising and generationally mixed.

Intercut with snatches of Sigur Rós performing 13 songs are scenes from Icelandic life – children with kites, waterfalls, glaciers, snow-capped mountains, ruins of farm buildings, water, more water, sea, icicles melting, grey skies glowering, a man who makes musical instruments out of 100-year-old rhubarb, the corpse of a cargo plane and the bleak vastness that stretches to the roof of the world. There are inserts from interviews with the band members, all of whom appear shy of the camera and uncomfortable talking about themselves.

There have been bands-on-tour films before, most notably Rattle And Hum with U2, but nothing can compare to the unbearable beauty of Heima. The music has an emotional inclusivity that brings tears to your eyes. Jon por Birgisson’s vocals soar and glide through anthemic rhythms of the purest kind, as he sings with the intensity of an eagle in flames.

So much of the film’s structure and look is the work of its Canadian director Dean DeBlois, better known as an animator at Disney (Lilo & Stitch). As a fan of Sigur Rós, he came in after the two-week tour was over when the editors were struggling to make sense of 120 hours of footage and shot additional material to create a whole new concept, which succeeds musically and visually beyond your wildest imagination.

Reviewed on: 02 Nov 2007
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The most original and successful Icelandic band travels the country giving free concerts.
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Director: Dean DeBlois

Starring: Sigur Ros

Year: 2007

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: Iceland


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