"It's kind of a safe haven for us, Iceland. We are left on our own here."
In the summer of 2006, the band Sigur Ros returned to Iceland for a bizarre and gorgeous tour, a homecoming captured by filmmaker Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch) in Heima, translated as "At Home". The dates were almost entirely unannounced and free of charge, and both the tour and the documentary were described as "a tribute to the people and places that make up home."
Here is what coming home looks like:
A small-town marching band assists a stripped-down Sigur Ros as they play in a local community center. The old friends play in the palpable emptiness of an abandoned herring factory, Jonsi Birgisson’s body tall, thin, and skeletal to match the signature falsetto of an eerily celestial voice. They goof off in the neighborhoods they were raised in but haven’t truly been a part of for years. You may not always know how to react, but you’ll be moved in one way or another.
Heima is not a tour documentary, at least not entirely. Sigur Ros has always been keenly aware that communication is not so mundane as to rely completely on the spoken word to function, as evidenced most clearly in their creation of Hopelandic, the make-believe language featured on the entirety of ( ). This attempt at xenoglossy may have seemed heavy handed in theory, but the album's opening chords turned doubters to believers. The band seems comfortable allowing you to fill in the blanks, confident that you’ll supply yourself with what you want (or need) to hear, and in this sense DeBlois has triumphed in allowing his cameras to capture the reality of Sigur Ros’s homecoming without attempting to infuse it with some dramatic back-story that never existed. Going home has always been story enough.
Through this lens, Iceland seems alien and absurdly gorgeous. Fair-haired children wander through shots, curiously surveying the eccentric band as they wander through the streets of towns that seem vaguely familiar and yet completely foreign. DeBlois rarely moves the camera, transfixed, and one might suspect that he himself is also enchanted by the otherworldly nature of the landscapes he’s capturing. Fjords, canyons, sweeping forests, and the curiously dark sands of Icelandic beaches all make appearances, each punctuated by the presence of people — and not the skinny indie-rock fans you’re used to seeing at concerts. These are aging mothers in basements sitting cross-legged as Jonsi croons the high notes over the strumming of an acoustic guitar. These are old neighbors investigating the sound of a violin bow dragged across nylon strings. These are the people Sigur Ros grew up around. It’s a family reunion.
Despite the timeless feel of the setting, we are also rooted in the reality of change. For instance, the band plays a show at a camp of protesters fighting the construction of a dam across a stretch of previously untouched wilderness. (The camp has since been destroyed, engulfed in rising floodwaters.) They also play two of their largest and most dramatic shows to date, a startling contrast to the smaller acoustic sessions in parks and coffee shops. In a sense, we’re allowed to watch a recreation of their own evolution as a band, playing as unknowns in tiny venues and working their way upwards to massive crowds.
It’s hard not to sound massively contrived in writing a description of the documentary. This is what happens when epic music is coupled with epic images, but here it is unavoidable. Heima is stunning. It is resplendent. It deserves your attention.
DVD 1: Documentary
- Sé Lest
- Ágætis Byrjun
- Olsen Olsen
- Á Ferð Til Breiðafjarðar Vorið 1922 (with Steindór Andersen)
DVD 2: Full Versions of All Songs
- Glósoli - 9:15
- Memories of Melodies
- Heysátan - 5:05
- Sé Lest - 11:26
- Gítardjamm - 5:29
- Olsen Olsen - 8:21
- Popplagið - 15:44
- Á Húsafelli
- Surtshellir - 3:32
- Church - 0:40
- Ágætis Byrjun - 6:55
- Kvæðamannafélagið Iðunn
- Á Ferð Til Breiðafjarðar Vorið 1922 (with Steindór Andersen) - 6:00
- Vaka - 5:50
- Dauðalagið - 13:08
- Hoppípolla/Með Blóðnasir - 7:12
- Starálfur - 5:39
- Vaka - 5:21
- Heima - 3:30
- Von - 8:27
- Samskeyti - 5:19
- Tour Diary