Following a small write-up in a recent issue of Metal Hammer magazine, I checked out the Icelandic film “Málmhaus” (which translates to “Metalhead”), which was written and directed by Ragnar Bragason (“Mr. Bjarnfreðarson”, “Children”).
12 year old girl Hera Karlsdottir (Diljá Valsdóttir – “Days Of Gray”) witnesses her older brother, heavy metal loving Baldur, suffer a horrific fatal accident on the family farm. At the subsequent funeral in the small village church it’s clear that Hera feels very angry towards God and she storms out to return home.
In Baldur’s bedroom Hera picks up his guitar and strums gently whilst images from the numerous heavy metal posters on the walls flash through her mind. She burns all her feminine clothes and takes Baldur’s heavy metal t-shirts to wear instead, as well as his guitar and record collection, and determines to leave home and catch the daily bus into the nearest town. However, it’s a bus that she never seems able to make herself board.
We then cut to several years later where we find Hera (now played by Thora Bjorg Helga – “The Deep”, “Brave Men’s Blood”) still living on the farm with her parents, still angry and lost. She has become proficient on the guitar. She has closed herself off from her parents and friends with the music her lifeline. It’s one that no one around her can understand though.
As the film progresses we see the struggles that her father Karl (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson – “Of Horses And Men”) and mother Droplaug (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir – “Devil’s Island”) have with the church, with Hera and with each other. Baldur’s room remains as it was when he died.
Janus (Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson – “Jar City”), a new priest, comes to the church and persuades Hera’s parents to return. Hera herself misreads things and, having watched a TV news report about church burnings by black metal bands in Norway, adopts corpse paint and channels her pain through her own black metal compositions.
Before long, however, things have become so bad for Hera that she feels that she has to run away…
I won’t go any further into the plot of the film as that would risk giving away the whole story.
The older Hera is portrayed brilliantly and is a character who I suspect many real-life heavy metal fans would be able to identify with on some level. This is a genre that is stereotypically said to appeal to the angry youth, the disenfranchised, the loner. Those things may all be true in some circumstances. What this story illustrates though is that the genre can become a way of life to which its followers are fiercely loyal and that those same followers can gain an awful lot in positive terms from it.
Aside from Hera’s love and passion for her music, we also see her vulnerabilities, frailties, anguish and her defiance. She is a complex and conflicted character.
Whilst the icy landscape of rural Iceland provides the stunning and often bleak visual backdrop, the heavy metal music provides a musical one. The soundtrack is never in your face, and indeed is just a part of a much greater whole.
This is not a kind of heavy metal “Footloose”, a troubled teenage metalhead versus the churchgoing villagers type thing – although there are elements of the latter in places. This film – for me – is a powerful and often bleak look at a family as it struggles with its loss and grief in different ways, and yet there is also joy and humour to be found here. Just like real life, then…