A Stunning Video Short from Filmmaker Alma Har’el for Sigur Rós’ “Fjögur Píanó”

What is it about Sigur Rós music that just makes you want to add visuals to it? It’s literally made for scoring a film it seems. So it makes sense that the Icelandic avant-rockers would hold their own little film festival of sorts for their new album “Valtari.” It’s a two-fold project (called The Valtari Mystery Film Experiment) consisting of a number of filmmakers whom have been invited to direct a video for one of the songs on the album, and an open call to all other filmmakers (in the form of a contest really) so they can also make their own videos for one of the songs on the album. Sigur Rós releases one new video a week on their site from the collection of filmmakers they’ve collated.

So far, they’ve gotten about half way through and they’ve all been pretty minimalist and droll, unlike most anything you’ve ever seen from a Sigur Rós video previously. Then there’s “Fjögur Píanó.”

Truly an infuriating piece of filmmaking for me, I am torn between the things about it I love and those things about it which I loathe. Let’s begin with the love. Shia LeBoeuf’s performance will for a long time be indelible from my mind. I watch a lot of films in my work and I have a weird habit of not liking to know too much about what I’m about to see before I see it. So unless I’m trolling for something specific, if I find a film to watch I initially intentionally avoid looking at anything about it except maybe who the director is, and in the case of music videos, the musical artist. Initially, when I viewed this short video, I thought he looked familiar but couldn’t put a name to the face. I was so compelled by his performance as “Man” though, that I when I saw who it was playing the role, I couldn’t believe it my eyes.

LeBeouf’s performance is heart-rending and real. When he smashes his hand through a glass frame, I found myself wondering if he actually smashed his hand though a glass frame and cut it. The award-winning director Alma Har’el seemed to truly be able to connect with these characters. The female lead who plays “Woman” is also phenomenal. Both of them together have a similarly cosmic and combative chemistry that is completely engaging.

The story is conceptually strong and metaphorically powerful, while not being blunt or compromising any artistry. Man and Woman start off having a close, connected and intimate relationship, when all of a sudden – quite literally – the winds of change blow through and force them down a path that tries their love at its very core. While the film takes a sillier turn at this chapter, it quickly redeems itself and regains traction as the couple finds themselves locked in an unforgiving downward trajectory of anger and repulsion.

Eventually, and almost subconsciously expected, Man ultimately kills Woman and then realizes what he’s done as something permanent and life-altering (it’s a little hard not think of Sid and Nancy here, but the unique touch Har’el adds at the moment of impact quickly snaps you ou of it). The fact that they lived in a bedroom of deceased and well-preserved butterflies, is almost a slap in face admitting that one of them should’ve seen this coming – for they were always trying to hold on to something that would forever leave them one day anyway. How many butterflies must be caught before the captor realizes they’ll never stop being another one out there to catch?

Even more interesting is the disjointed narrative which essentially depicts at the onset of the film, as Man and Woman dance gracefully with each other like winged insects themselves, that none of the preserved butterflies are on the wall and there are faded shadows resembling the ghosts of where there used to be something beautiful, caught, pinned and on permanent display. I assume it’s post-death of Woman when we open with this scene, maybe a memory Man has captured for a moment in time.

What’s wrong with this short film is the sloppy detour it takes mid-way through the story. I like the realistic depiction of a metaphor, and I like the aggressive etherealness of their dream-state, but the direction of this segue and the look of it was jarring and overblown. Finally, I wish there was more collusion with the music, but honestly this was the first Sigur Ros video I think I’ve ever seen where I cared less about the song than I did about the video. I think the beauty and fragile artistry of both mediums in this case worked against each other and one is lost for the other. I’d love to see this film with a less notable “soundtrack” and watch a video for “Fjögur Píanó” with a less engaging narrative.

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