Beauty and the beasts

Taste of Iceland’s film component goes to major extremes

HELMA Directed by Dean DeBlois. 97 minutes. Rating: NNNNN and CHILDREN Directed by Ragnar Bragason. 93 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: NNN

Both films screen Thursday (March 13) at 8:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., respectively, at the Cumberland. As part of Taste of Iceland. Rating: NNNNN

It’s the agony and the ecstasy in this two-film series playing at the Taste of Iceland festival.

I’m now hot for Iceland. The divine Heima has done that to me.

This concert-film-cum-travelogue tracks ethereal post-rockers Sigur Rós during a series of free concerts in their country of origin, or home (the English translation of the word “heima”), to say thanks for supporting them through their years of touring worldwide.

Everything about this film is beautiful, starting with the vibe of the band itself, evident in a series of interviews and in the way the gigs are planned. One show doubles as a protest against the construction of a dam devastating the country’s ancient rock formations. Others make a point of including villagers in their concerts, members of a choir that’s had a hundred-year history, say, or a marching band that’s a small town’s pride.

Don’t worry if you don’t know Sigur Rós.

The music is sublime, no matter your taste. The band, often playing acoustically, features strings, horns and xylophones as well as guitars, percussion and the magnificent falsetto of lead singer Jón Thór “Jónsi” Birgisson – Chris Martin, eat your heart out – creating a sensibility that crosses over all kinds of aesthetics.

As they perform, Icelanders gather, play – a shot of red kites against a blue sky will blow your mind – and the country’s spectacular landscapes change, perfectly synched to the music, thanks to some precision editing.

Not to be missed, whether you’re a fan of the band or not. Grim and oozing pain, Children conveys the opposite vibe to Heima’s.

Where Heima is full of gorgeous colour, Children comes in stark black-and-white. In contrast to the concert pic’s wide-open breathtaking landscapes, Ragnar Bragnason’s drama feels claustrophobic. And don’t look for any shiny, happy people in Children. They’re all suffering big time.

Kristin, a mother of four, works as a nurse and can barely manage financially. She’s losing track of what’s going on with her older son, Guthmund, who’s friendless except for neighbour Marinó, a schizophrenic who’s not taking his meds.

Guthmund’s absentee father, a violent thug, wants to reconnect with his son as an act of redemption after causing the near-death of his brother.

Though the film is called Children, it could just as easily be called Mothers. All of these troubled kids and adults are parented by single women at the end of their rope.

What works here is the way the film conveys its profound sense of unease. Violence erupts suddenly, encounters between characters have unexpected outcomes. It’s a film that keeps you on edge.

Together, Children and Heima constitute a strange one-two punch.

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