In the accompanying film to his 2016 album ‘Island Songs,’ Ólafur Arnalds explores “the real culture of Iceland”. The result is a spellbindingly minimalistic portrait of the country’s more remote destinations, which are illustrated by heart-warming anecdotes, personable humour and of course, an ethereal soundtrack. This new audio-visual production may even be his best work since he reviewed pizza places for the Grapevine.
Shot chronologically over the course of seven weeks, Ólafur and director Baldvin Z (Trapped, Life in a Fish Bowl), visited seven different locations in Iceland, producing seven different songs with seven different local artists. Seven, it appears, was their lucky number. From the outset, the film allows the source material to speak for itself, immersing its audience through isolation. For the most part, we are removed from the materialism of Reykjavík, accompanied only by the musicians and their instruments in a secluded setting. The value of simplicity is truly demonstrated in Island Songs and is thread through it from title to toe.
The Real Iceland
During the editing process, Ólafur and Baldvin were careful to make sure the emphasis was on feelings and not facts. The music, therefore, rather than the commentary is the real voice of the film. The visuals serve only to enrich the story being told – the moral of which is to embrace the beautiful everyday. Any sense that Island Sounds was rushed – despite the obvious time constraints facing Ólafur and Baldvin – is vanquished by the choice to film in locations close to the artists’ heart such as homes, churches and even lighthouses. This clearly aided the creative process and connected Ólafur intimately and immediately with his collaborators. As a result, we are treated to seven emotionally resonant tracks and seven different microcosms of Iceland’s soul. Highlights include the near-tear-inducing introduction, Árbakkin, with poet Einar Georg Einarsson and the soulful, hypnotic Particles, featuring Of Monsters and Men star Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdottír.
Of course, the quintessentially Icelandic and previously unknown personal connections between Ólafur and his collaborators also serve as great tools in his national portrait. In Hvammstagi, his first destination, it is discovered that he formerly played in a band with the grandson of Georg, whose bizarre grandfather clock – which plays the sound of a doorbell – adds to the encounter’s authentic quirkiness. The mysterious whereabouts of a rogue cockerel in Mosfelldalur further solidifies Island Sounds’ organic, humorous edge.
The film’s crowning glory, however, comes in the finale. Asking his audience to sing with him, Ólafur notes ‘in the end, the film is not about what we expected to begin with’ though Doria’s celebratory crescendo indicates he’s ecstatic with the final product. The Grapevine shares this sentiment and hereby renders it inarguable that Island Sounds provides a mesmerising “insight into the people and artistry of Iceland”. Long may Ólafur’s solo work continue!
Island Songs is now showing at Bió Paradís. Read our journey with Ólafur on one of the filming expeditions here.
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