I’ve been meaning to write a little bit about this movie for a while so I decided to take the time to do it today. Heima is a documentary film about the acclaimed Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Ros. Usually band documentaries are for a pretty narrow group of people. They tend to not have a whole lot of artistic value outside of seeing the band perform live and a few interviews. For instance, I like the documentary Meeting People is Easy about Radiohead. I don’t think that it is a great film. I just really like Radiohead. Heima, however, is a good film in its own right. It is shot well and has value beyond simply seeing Sigur Ros in action. Because of that, Heima is a movie that can be enjoyed by a broader audience, not just people who love Sigur Ros music.
Now I am a fan of this band, so we’ll talk about the music aspect of this film first. Heima shows Sigur Ros on an Icelandic tour they completed in the summer of 2006. Besides two open air concerts in Reykjavik and Asbyrgi they played shows in some of the smaller and more isolated parts of Iceland. The parts of the film showing Sigur Ros play are wonderful. Sigur Ros has been a band that has always had a flare for big, theatrical music that is best enjoyed at loud volumes in big open spaces. Seeing them perform in their native homeland really shows how the band was meant to be enjoyed. Many of the concert venues are in large open fields or on bleak coastal beeches, and it’s fascinating to see the band perform in the geography that inspired them in the first place. It’s wonderful to get a small glimpse into the mind of these eccentric Icelandic rockers.
The music itself is great. A problem with theatrical bands like Sigur Ros is that they often have a hard time recreating the depth of their music live. Although this happens a few times during the movie (the ending of “Olsen Olsen” being especially disappointing), often times their live performances are just as engaging and exciting as the tracks on their albums. Songs like “Glosoli”, “Heysatan”, and “Untitled #8” translate really well into the format of the film and all of their other songs hold up pretty well. It is also worth noting that a few unreleased songs show up during the movie. The two best are a slowed down version of “Von” (the lead track from their first album) and the song “Á ferð til Breiðafjarðar” (which consists of Sigur Ros backing up an Icelandic folk singer). Heima goes to show you why Sigur Ros is one of the leading bands of their genre. Their music is interesting and emotionally engaging. Best of all, they are great musicians, and Heima really demonstrated just how talented Jonsi and crew really are.
Even though the music is great, the movie really distinguishes itself when it comes to cinematography. Throughout the film, concert performances are interspersed with long, beautiful shots of the Icelandic countryside. Heima does a great job showing the diversity of geography in Iceland and giving each location its own distinct feel and tone. These shots would be a little slow on their own, but having the visceral music of Sigur Ros playing at the same time seems to give each shot a greater purpose and establishes a sense of direction. This film could have ended up being really abstract and slow moving, but considering the naturally episodic nature of watching concert after concert, the film makers do a good job of maintaining pace throughout. The film never seems to drag, and this accomplished by breaking up long strains of concert footage with the shots of Icelandic countryside. If you’ve ever wanted to know why people visit Iceland on vacation, Heima is the answer.
The biggest achievement of this film is how it ties everything together. Rather than just being a film about a band, or just being a film about Iceland, Heima is able to accomplish a sort of synergy that allows it to transcend the narrow confines of its genre. There is a certain broad spectrum appeal to Heima that easily finds a potential audience. Obviously you’ll get a lot more out of this if you actually like Sigur Ros music in the first place, but you don’t need to be a huge fan of Sigur Ros to watch this movie (although this may convert you). It’s not flawless, and of course generous fan service does abound, but everything else works together to create a film that is moving, breathtaking and wonderful for all audiences, making it well worth watching.