'Leave The World Behind' Review: Documentary Fails To Reveal Truth Behind Swedish House Mafia Breakup
Leave The World Behind, a new documentary, premiered at SXSW on Wednesday, March 12. It follows the house music group Swedish House Mafia as they embark on their final worldwide tour before disbanding.
Swedish House Mafia is made up of three DJ/producers: Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrasso. In 2012, the group had grown apart and, though they were reaching the height of their fame and popularity, they decided to disband. As the film attests, fans were furious, disappointed and devastated by the band’s announcement.
Leave The World Behind gives viewers a look at what the three men were thinking at the time of their breakup, a strange thing considering the scope of their performances. In the film, Swedish House Mafia performs on a gigantic stage hovering above packed stadiums. They stand behind turntables and computers, almost obscured by extravagant light shows and videos. While Axwell, Steve and Sebastian are more visible than, say, Daft Punk, they are still somewhat mysterious men, kept separate from the audience by the sheer size and nature of their music. The documentary allows viewers to see another side of the group, one that cannot hide behind a turntable or a computer.
The film begins with various facts about how the band embarked on their final tour, a huge undertaking unlike anything they had ever done before. For their last tour, all three members agreed to create the best show they had ever produced. The film jumps back and forth, cutting from interviews of the band members to video from concerts from their world tour. The chronology of it all can be a bit confusing, but, in a way, that is part of the documentary’s charm. It presents a sort of chaotic story, reflecting the intensity of the dance music that is constantly thumping in the background.
Director and editor Christian Larson certainly puts forth an ambitious film, but he seems unsure of what, exactly, its purpose is supposed to be. The movie has been described as a look at why and how Swedish House Mafia broke up, but it certainly never delves deep enough to expose any truths. Nor does the film expose anything substantive about the three members of the group. In some particularly endearing and interesting scenes, the audience sees each man at home with their respective wives and young children. These too-short scenes allude to a bigger picture as to the reason for their breakup. As fathers and husbands, they want to be home with their families and cannot possibly work as hard and as constantly as they have in the past. Nor, it must be said, can they party like they used to.
It’s too bad that the documentary fails to go deeper into the lives of Axwell, Steve and Sebastian. But, perhaps this is due to the fact that none of the three members are willing to speak about their problems. Axwell and Steve, in particular, both tend to talk in circles about how the time has simply come to an end, and how they want to preserve their friendship instead of the band. Sebastian, who certainly comes off as the most charming and funny of the group, is a bit more direct in his interviews with the filmmakers.
In fact, Sebastian reveals more of himself than the other two members, talking openly about his hard-partying days and admitting that he had faults and probably contributed to the band’s breakup. Neither Steve nor Axwell took similar responsibility. While this could simply be because they refused to touch upon certain subjects with the filmmakers, it felt as if the filmmakers felt uncomfortable pushing them.
Where the film truly comes to life is during the interviews with various young fans and concert-goers. People from all around the world worship the band, and Larson captures photo-like portraits of various audience members simply staring directly into camera. The images are slowed down, creating a slow-motion effect without seeming cheesy. These portraits show how diverse the Swedish House Mafia fans truly are, and comment on the boundless communication of music. It also reminds viewers of the importance and value of a concert. There’s very little like the feeling you get after seeing one of your favorite singers or bands perform. It’s exhilarating and personal and moving and fun, and Leave The World Behind captured that wondrous experience fantastically.
Leave The World Behind does fall into the trap of feeling like a prolonged music video at times, as many musical documentaries do. What is unfortunate about Leave The World Behind is that dance music all tends to sound alike for those new to the genre, meaning that concert montages that might be presenting different songs to the viewers all sounds the same, but the edits and cuts are disorienting enough to make the viewer wonder if they have, indeed, changed songs as well as camera angles. The soundtrack is consistently engaging and fun, even to a dance music newbie such as myself, but the failure for the film to establish a baseline, or to put forward a song directly and clearly to the viewer, makes it difficult for those unfamiliar with Swedish House Mafia to truly become converted to the group.
Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrasso and Axwell make the film worth seeing with their musings on music, life and their fun backstage antics, but the film fails to go deep enough into the trio’s conflict-riddled friendship to provide anything particularly insightful or illuminating. Still, the film is certainly a must see for any Swedish House Mafia fan. And, as I can attest, is even fun for those who have never heard of them before.
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