The acclaimed Icelandic band Sigur Rós recently asked a dozen filmmakers to each choose a song from its new album, “Valtari,” and shoot a video inspired by the music. All the directors received the same $10,000 budget and zero instructions from the band. With that creative freedom, filmmaker Alma Har’el delivered dead butterflies, light-up lollipops and a naked (in every sense) performance from a star of megabudget Hollywood movies.
Har’el’s video for “Fjögur Píanó” features Shia LaBeouf (“Transformers,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”) and actress Denna Thomsen as a couple caught up in a destructive spiral, possibly revolving around drug addiction, lovesick co-dependence or both. The seven-minute video is more of a dream sequence than a narrative. A man and woman go through repetitive motions and get buffeted by two menacing “forces,” bearded guys who feed them glowing candy. LaBeouf’s character, unshaven and with long hair pulled back, trashes a bedroom, weeps and scars his lover. He also dances with her, using jagged, gestural movements.
“The things you can’t say in words are best said in dance,” says Har’el, an Israeli who has also directed music videos for the band Beirut and spots for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. For “Fjögur Píanó,” a wordless song featuring four piano pieces, she used choreography to evoke the couple’s stormy relationship and a wild car ride. (The video’s choreographer, Ryan Heffington, plays one of the hirsute “forces.”)
The director also used dance in her documentary film “Bombay Beach,” about three characters living near California’s isolated Salton Sea. It won the documentary feature prize at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival—and connected her with LaBeouf. The actor emailed her out of the blue after watching “Bombay Beach” on DVD, Har’el says. They had dinner, and when Har’el mentioned the Sigur Rós project, the actor volunteered. (LaBeouf wasn’t available for comment.)
The video, Har’el suggests, “is about addiction to drugs, or sex, or anything–and how you get stuck in a cycle.” And the dead butterflies festooning the bedroom that imprisons the couple? The director says they symbolize “very beautiful things that die very fast,” the experiences or emotions that couple share ad nauseam. “For me, it’s about not knowing how to get out of something without causing pain to somebody else,” Har’el says. “For other people it might be about candy and fish. I’m down with that.”
The nude scenes weren’t pre-planned, she says, and came out of group consensus during the five-day project. Had it been a Hollywood production, the full-frontal exposure of a major star would’ve been a more complicated matter, no doubt. “That’s the difference between working within a corporate system and something that artistically takes you places you wouldn’t expect,” the director says. “To me, it’s erotic, but it’s not selling anything.”