Watching it in the climate of the ongoing recession, in which Iceland has suffered huge economic collapse, Hlemmur feels oddly premonitory. Placing focus on Iceland’s have-nots, the film paints a gritty, unglamorous picture of urban Reykjavík with no aspirations to pay further into the otherworldly image of the country often portrayed in the arts. Hlemmur’s biggest appeal is undoubtedly its delicate soundtrack, written and performed by Sigur Rós. Their involvement with the film has seen the DVD become a coveted collector’s item alongside a book of the band’s sketches, but the film and music scarcely harmonise and work best independent of each other. Although patchy and often light-handed on commentary, Hlemmur does its best to never contrive facts or events, and thus succeeds as an emotive vérité documentary, giving voice to those whom society has brushed away.
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
Hlemmur is the name of the main bus terminal in Reykjavík, and forms the stage for this brief documentary. The subjects, a group of down-on-their-luck homeless men who treat the station as their home, are allowed to speak for themselves, the camera rarely acknowledged. Many of the men share in common a love-hate relationship with alcohol, a clear catalyst to their emotional and physical deterioration. One supposedly reformed character chuckles as he recalls his dramatic weight loss during a particularly bad drinking binge, while another man in his fifties blames poor healthcare programmes for his severe depression. The film is bound together with clips of the city at different points in the day.