Dir. Vincent Morisset
The sound of a cheering crowd contrasts with the reverent silence of the audience in the cinema, building for a few seconds before receding behind the rhythmic picking of a bass guitar. Onscreen, a hypnotic montage of smoke, equipment and abstract shapes flickers, occasionally revealing the silhouette of a slender man, slightly hunched, clutching an electric guitar and a cello bow. He sings in a flawless falsetto, his voice pure and undistorted amid the vagueness of his image. So begins Inni, the second live film by Icelandic alternative rock band Sigur Ros, and their first collaboration with Canadian auteur filmmaker Vincent Morisset (Arcade Fire’s Miroir Noir).
Released concurrently with a live double album of the same name, Inni, unlike its 2007 predecessor Heima, is unapologetically niche in its execution. Spectators at the screening I attended were all existing fans, and it is precisely with this audience in mind that Inni has been made. Suffice to say that those not already enamoured with Sigur Ros’ glacial blend of ambience and rock are unlikely to be swayed here. Nonetheless, Morisset has crafted a mesmerising visual accompaniment to the band’s ethereal, at times transcendent musical performance, in parts abrasive, engrossing, and bewitching. So often genre pieces of this kind fall short, aurally or visually, resulting in a film that engages neither cinematically nor musically, but Inni’s artfully indistinct aesthetics provide the perfect foil to Jónsi Birgisson’s piercing vocals and the refreshingly urgent percussion of Orri Páll Dýrason. Filmed digitally, before being transferred to 16mm film, the director then re-filmed the projected footage, using glass and other items to warp and distort the images of band, audience, instruments and stage.
It’s an extremely singular approach, even by Sigur Ros’ own standards. Morisset deliberately contrasts Inni with Heima, stripping away every nonessential element, leaving nothing but the quartet and their instruments. Except that’s not quite true. Short pieces of archival footage are inserted at intervals, showing the band before their commercial breakthrough at the turn of the century, giving interviews and playing small, lo-fi gigs. Whilst providing moments of humour, and though they are certainly interesting viewing in their own right, these vignettes can’t help but break the rhythm of what is otherwise a meticulously arranged performance. Their brief, colourful appearances amidst the shadows and spotlights that dominate the majority of Inni feel like a compromise, an attempt to inject some variety into a production that is by no means lacking in it.
Such focus in terms of artistic representation inevitably also comes with a lack of universal accessibility. Whereas Heima was exceptionally, self-consciously beautiful, characterised by the vast, pristine landscapes of the Icelandic tundra, Inni places the band behind a gossamer veil of abstracted monochrome. At times the lighting is harsh, the music demanding, and the film can certainly be a difficult watch on occasion; however it is consistently rewarding, undeniably captivating, and filled with moments of incidental splendour.
In many ways, Inni seems like a natural conclusion; Sigur Ros’ spectral, otherworldly sound is inherently more suited to the dark intimacy of the cinema, than the packed arena in which it was captured. There’s nothing here that will convince sceptics to change their opinions, but as an enthralling, apposite portrayal of one of the most inventive rock bands of the past decade, it is ultimately impossible to call Inni anything other than an enchanting success.