Auds might not see any fairies — or elves, or trolls, or hidden people, or ghosts, or water monsters, or hidden beings, or angels — in Jean Michel Roux’s slyly serious “Investigation into the Invisible World,” but, as testimony of literally dozens of very serious-looking Icelanders makes clear, that isn’t because they’re not there. On par with such thematically imaginative and technically astonishing docus as “Winged Migration,” “Microcosmos” and the nonfiction work of Errol Morris and Michael Apted, pic will be anything but invisible on the fest circuit, in select arthouse situations and as an ancillary home staple of the form.
Opening title cards bring auds up to speed on the continent: with 283,000 inhabitants, Iceland is the world’s largest volcanic island; the meeting point of the European and American tectonic plates; where Jules Verne set the beginning of his “Journey to the Center of the Earth”; and home to both the first Euro democratic assembly and the first female president (1980-1996).
Credentials thus established, pic then trots out a procession of workers, politicians, artists, mediums, druids and even children who claim to have seen and/or spent quality time with the various ethereal beings that populate the striking rock formations that seem to be everywhere.
Road office head Helgi Hallagrimsson explains that when they must shift rocks containing elves to make way for new thoroughfares, they use mediums as go-betweens because “we try to keep everyone happy.” Local cop Bjorn Sigurdsson remembers losing childhood elf pal Viktor when “my testicles dropped and I lost the ability to see or play with him,” while shrimp fisherman Hjalti Thordarson explains that “they draw their vital energy from the human belief in their existence.”
Pic’s most absurd moments come courtesy helmer and fest fixture Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, who pops up to justify his encounter by explaining “I was hung over, which made me more receptive”; and medium Thorunn K. Emilsdottir, who proclaims with much aplomb as she looks over a large black slab, “I’ve just discovered that this rock contains an elf university.”
Since none of these beings could apparently be persuaded to appear on-camera, helmer Jean Michel Roux unveils a breathtaking bag of technical tricks that move things along, including stylish graphics identifying all interviewees and a quartet of sound mixers who create a vivid aural universe of whooshes, groans and creakings guaranteed to raise neck hairs (though officially credited to Biosphere and Hector Zazou, soundtrack also samples Gorecki, the Residents and others). If any part of this is a put-on, it’s a hugely entertaining one: the nature documentary as otherworldly thriller.