I have never been to Iceland, but I have seen Sigur Rós in concert. Heima offers the opportunity to have both experiences at the same time. When the atmospheric sounds of Sigur Rós meld with the beautiful, sparse imagery of Iceland’s countryside the film reaches resplendent heights. Yet, it fails to capture the breadth of both a Sigur Rós show and, I must presume, the experience of visiting Iceland.
Continually interrupted by interviews with band members and broken into chapters that highlight each of the free, unannounced shows the band performed across Iceland the film’s segmented structure abruptly cuts into the aural accession that occurs at a Sigur Rós show.
On album or in concert, Sigur Rós music plays out like a force of nature. In Heima, the experience is reduced to something more akin to a television special on hurricanes. Albeit, this is a rather poetic weather report, but it is distanced, safe, and fails to capture the weight and magnitude of that which it documents. Perhaps, had the theater been equipped with a proper surround sound audio system and had the projector been of high definition caliber or at least adjusted to properly show the richer black tones, the experience may have been more transcendent.
Minor as this quibble may sound, a document about sound must recapture the experience with the same intensity as seeing a real concert. Why a Hollywood blockbuster can have sound design that can rattle my fillings and vibrate my rib cage, but Heima does not, begs answering.
A more major quibble is the overly sentimental imagery of bucolic towns and their inhabitants. A cross between J. Crew catalogs and maudlin long distance commercials, the strained tenderness is counterfeit. Were a car company to license Sigur Rós’ music and set it to such imagery fans would decry the action as blasphemous. Heima is not selling cars or phone service. It is selling Sigur Rós and Iceland. Since it is a documentary filmmaker working with the artist I must assume they are both comfortable with the syrupy depiction. For my tastes many of the images are too mawkish.
As for a final raucous number in the city of Reykjavik, the projected images of rapid-fire, digital-detritus that shroud the stage are unfitting and out of place. Images of static are old chestnuts in the world of bands who trade in feedback and distorting. They usurp the beauty and power of Sigur Rós’ music. These images change the origin of the band’s sound, placing it inside the mechanics of their instruments and not from the land they love.