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variety review of 'heima'

as much a tribute to the stunning landscapes of iceland as it is a concert tour, dean deblois's docu chronicles two weeks in summer 2006 when acclaimed icelandic combo sigur ros played their ethereal music during free performances in far-flung corners of their beautiful homeland. pic makes no concessions to those unfamiliar with the group -- neither musicians nor songs are identified -- but the unique sounds and images should beguile the uninitiated as well as fans. skedded for select u.k. theaters in november, it will also be released as a special-edition dvd with companion album and photo book.

for those who haven't heard of iceland's most famous musical export since bjork and the sugar cubes, sigur ros comprises singer-guitarist jon thor "jonsi" birgisson, bassist georg "goggi" holm, keyboard player kjartan "kjarri" sveinsson and percussionist orri pall dyrason. the group's enigmatic and elegant recordings now sell in the millions.

after a 13-month world tour in support of their fourth album, "takk," sigur ros, along with backup string quartet amiina --hildur arsaelsdottir, maria huld markan, edda run olafsdottir, solrun sumarlioadottir -- decided to give back to their compatriots. pic shows them playing in locations including a deserted fishing town, a protest camp at the edge of a controversial dam, isolated highland wilderness, an outsider art shrine, a national park and a community hall. filmed in lengthy closeups, without the lights and projected visuals of their auditorium shows, these scenes provide an insider's p.o.v. of what happens onstage during a concert.

deblois intercuts the perfs with shots of rapt multigenerational audiences and ravishing surroundings. the editing and visuals aren't on the level of those in ron fricke's "baraka" or godfrey reggio's "koyaanisqatsi," but in conjunction with jonsi's alien-registered vocal stylings and the surging instrumentals, they inspire a trancelike state.

pic also interweaves short interview snippets, in which the musicians are neither particularly revealing about their process nor terribly articulate, but come across as shy, nice and relatively normal. a tantalizingly brief discussion of the bond jonsi feels with iceland's ancient rhyming chant tradition feels as if it could have been fruitfully extended.

per press notes, "heima," which translates as both "at home" and "homeland," features perfs of songs from all four sigur ros albums, many radically reworked, as well as two two new songs: "guitardjamm," filmed inside an abandoned herring oil tank in the far west of the country, and the traditional "a ferd til breidarfjardar 1922," performed with poet steindor anderson.

lyrics to jonsi's eerie original vocals, which aren't subtitled, are reportedly a mixture of icelandic and a made-up language called "hopelandish."

(alissa simon)



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