Critics like to use words like “ethereal” and “mystical” when describing Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Rós. From massive, sprawling soundscapes to frontman Jónsi’s otherworldly falsetto to Hopelandic, their invented language, the ensemble seems more alien than human. At times, it seems that their music is part of the natural universe, emanating from distant stars and galaxies rather than a real, live human four-piece. So how can a group whose fame is built on their ghostly presence release a successful concert film? The answer... they can’t.
Directed by Vincent Morisset, Inni is a musically stunning but ultimately disappointing experiment in abstract film. Faux-grainy black-and-white footage and extreme close-ups make for an interesting, yet never captivating, coupling with Sigur Rós’sremarkable live performance. As the first muted horns of “Ný Batteri” sound, indistinguishable shapes materialize, drawing us into Sigur Rós’ surreal Northern world. We see the contour of Jónsi’s jaw, the faint glimmer of drummer Orri Páll Dýrason’s jacket, and the slow movement of a bow on cello strings. This beautiful dreamlike style underpins the impression that Sigur Rós is not, in fact, a group of human beings. However, after a few tracks, the faces and dark silhouettes are as tiring as they are blurry.
It should have come as a relief when Morisset spliced these shots with fragments of interviews and brief scenes of the band on the road. Regrettably, this footage does little to offset the abstract concert shots and ultimately obscures the aim of Inni. The transition from ghostly vocals and melodic vibraphones to poor-quality NPR interviews is jarring, to say the least. On one hand, the grainy close-ups distance the band from its earthly fans. On the other hand, the scenes of dialogue and tour banter do the complete opposite; they almost make the band relatable. As each band member introduces himself, it is nearly impossible to associate the pale, nondescript lads in the studio with the skillful musicians seen moments before.
Inni’s one major success comes neither from the cinematography, nor from the glimpses of the band’s life on the road, but from Sigur Rós’s astonishing music. Anyone who has seen the Icelandic ensemble live will tell you that their performance is nothing short of life-changing. From a soaring, shimmering “Svefn-G-Englar” to a barreling, celestial “Saeglopur”, Inni proves that now, nearly twenty years since they joined the post-rock scene, the band is still worth the hype.Following an appealing but overly ambitious debut album, Sigur Rós sharpened their sound for 1999’s acclaimed Ágætis byrjun, a harrowing and hopeful sophomore effort that brought the band commercial and critical success. They followed this masterpiece with Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust — a solid album of untitled songs in Hopelandic — and eventually Takk, a record channelling the blissful ambience they do so well. Since then, Sigur Rós have released a documentary, the soundtrack to the said documentary, a fifth studio album, and finally Inni.
When they released Ágætis byrjun, the group claimed that their brand of galactic dream-rock would “change music and the way people think about music” forever. Many of their albums may have done just that. After all, who else could pair vibraphone pulses with nonsensical lyrics in a gibberish language and still win the Shortlist Music Prize? Unfortunately, Morisset proved unable to translate their extraterrestrial melodies into a cinematic success. Ultimately, Inni was produced for a certain breed of fans. Sold on DVD for an eyebrow-raising $79, the film isn’t for the casual Sigur Rós listener. Despite beautiful cinematography and a stellar performance by the band, a combination of unclear aims and grainy abstract footage doom this film. For the band’s many disciples, Inni is a must-see for the music alone. But if you’re seeking an attractive and captivating concert film, I’d recommend making a bag of popcorn, curling up on the couch, and preparing for your umpteenth viewing of Stop Making Sense.