Iceland At Its Musical Best

23 Feb

Movie Review:  Heima

Rating:  5 stars

Foreign films can be a little daunting because it’s hard to read subtitles and watch the action at the same time.  Yet, American movies have become tedious in their predictability:  car chase, gunfire, explosion.  At least foreign films give you an alternative;  they show you what life (and attitudes) are like in other countries.  It’s nice to find one that is also relaxing to watch–especially for music lovers.

Photo from website

The movie Heima is about Iceland’s most famous band, Sigur Rós, a downtempo, alternative music group with a unique sound.  If you haven’t heard them, follow this link to their website:

But the movie is as much about Iceland as it is about the band.  These quiet, dignified musicians reflect Iceland’s quiet, dignified society.  The movie follows the band as it travels around the island, giving brief concerts, most of which are held outdoors or in small town halls in midsummer.  Life in Iceland, just south of the Arctic Circle, is interesting–at Summer Solstice, the days there are 21 hours long, and at Winter Solstice, only four hours.

Photo from travel agency

Without advance publicity, the concerts attracted a cross-section of people.  The events became family affairs with every age group represented:  adults, young children, adolescents, old people, and babies.  Absent were the aggressive fans and fawning groupies that mar many audiences.  Icelanders treated the band cordially, politely, and as equals.  People in the audience moved around freely and casually, reacting to the presence of this excellent band as a natural occurrence.


The Icelandic people were beautiful; many had the white-blonde hair of their Scandinavian ancestors.  Many wore handmade sweaters with Nordic patterns knitted from local wool. These gorgeous sweaters can be bought online from the Handknitting Association of Iceland.

Handknit sweaters from local wool by the Handknitting Association of Iceland

The vast majority of the movie took place outside.  Everywhere, the camera focused on broad expanses of sky, land, and water.  Every scene showed a love of nature.  Without drama or sentimentality, the movie succeeded in being poignant yet joyful.

Icelanders appeared to be one of the most laid-back civilizations of modern times. They seemed to be universally calm and centered.  Average citizens performed folk music or demonstrated art without a trace of attention seeking behavior.  In one funny scene,  a church group hauled a Kawai keyboard out to a field, where the organist sat on a roll of fencing and the choir sang robustly–as cars rolled by on the freeway!  In another, the band assembled inside a cave and played a large xylophone made of sawed pieces of rock.  Each musician took up a pair of mallets, claimed an octave, and added a musical part.  The result was mesmerizing.

Very little of the sparse dialogue was subtitled. Translation was unnecessary.  No profound meaning was loaded into conversations. And yet, like life, every simple action was loaded with emotion.  Pride, a sense, of belonging, sincerity, and a generosity of spirit came through clearly in these steadfast, sturdy inhabitants of a unique and rugged land.

For all of these reasons, Heima is a movie worth watching, even if you aren’t a fan of Sigur Rós.  But if you are, you will be rewarded with hours of glorious, soaring, serene music, featuring the angelic voice of its vocalist.  Don’t miss the experience.


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