Arcade Fire leave the studio and blaze their way on to the big screen

The band have teamed up with director Spike Jonze for a film to accompany their latest album. It illuminates the record's heart of darkness, says Elisa Bray

Arcade Fire have not only created three of the most essential albums in contemporary rock, but they have also crossed over to the world of film – with the help of a few significant friends. In August, the live webcast of their concert at Madison Square Garden in New York was shot by Terry Gilliam for internet audiences. They created one of the most original interactive videos around for their single "We Used to Wait". And now the Montreal band have teamed up with Spike Jonze, the director of Being John Malkovich, to create their first film, Scenes from the Suburbs.

The mysterious 28-minute film, which was made as a companion piece to their twice-Grammy-nominated 2010 album, The Suburbs, will be seen by the public for the first time tomorrow when it premieres as part of the Berlin Film Festival's Shorts programme. Up to now, we've known very little about the film: in the summer, the band's frontman and songwriter Win Butler had given a brief description of a "science-fiction B-movie companion piece for the record" to the American music website Pitchfork. Recently, a poster for the film appeared on the band's website, while fans had a glimpse of the film in the music video for their song "The Suburbs", which featured scenes from the full-length project.

If fans and critics felt that the band had relaxed a little with the thematic content of The Suburbs, less preoccupied as it was with the state of modern society and more set on looking back nostalgically to their childhoods, the film, which I have seen, paints the darkest picture of the album.

With the sound of the album's title and opening track as a backdrop, the theme of nostalgia – so key to the album – is portrayed through the perspective of a teenager looking back on a distant summer: "I wish I could remember every little moment. But I can't," he says. "Why do I only remember the moments that I do? I wonder what happens to the others."

Taking us into his memories, against a soundtrack comprised of songs and instrumental extracts from The Suburbs, the film follows his group of close friends, who appear to have grown up together in their neighbourhood. Idyllic shots of the group show them cycling around their suburb, smiling, play-wrestling, getting into mischief and experiencing first love, before shifting quickly to showing us that they are trapped in the suburb.

The imagery becomes increasingly threatening, as armed soldiers start arresting people at the suburb's border and then, even more terrifyingly, removing people from their own homes. The eerie sense of unease is captured by the cinematographer Greig Fraser, who was behind the camera for Let Me In, the American reworking of the Swedish vampire film. Turned away from their suburban border on the way to visit a relative, these teenagers can't leave town, it seems, because outside the country is at war and the military controls life and all gateways. It very literally portrays the sentiments of the album's title song: "You always seemed so sure/ That one day we'd be fighting in a suburban war."


Arcade Fire - Funeral

The film's screenplay was a collaborative effort between Jonze, Win Butler and the latter's multi-instrumentalist brother Will. "We played Spike some music from the album and the first images that came to his mind had the same feeling as this idea for a science-fiction film I had when I was younger," said Win, for whom this was a first attempt at screenwriting. "My brother and I and Spike wrote it together, which was really fun – it was like total amateur hour."

They spent a week with some 15-year-olds to research the roles played by the young actors. It also stars Win (in a speaking part) and his wife, the singer and multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne, as uniformed cops.

The Butlers themselves grew up in a suburb in north Houston, Texas, with its uniform lines of corporate housing. The album sees Win revisiting his hometown to reconnect with his past and an old friend. There's a tension in the album between the joyful memories of a carefree childhood ("The kids want to be so hard/ but in my dreams we're still screaming/ and running through the yard") and something less idyllic, seen in lyrics which describe a more oppressive place, in which "they heard me singing and told me to stop" ("Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)") and "our heads are just houses/ without enough windows/ they say you hear human voices/ but they only echo" ("Half Light"). Either way, the place of their childhood cannot be rediscovered except in memories.

In the film, the oppressive neighbourhood is represented by the country's harsh military control. It explores growing up, what it is to be teenager and to experience the loss of innocence. When a childhood friend moves on as the result of ageing and changing circumstances, the film captures the resulting emotions of resentment and disconnection.

It also bares comparison with Jonze's previous film, Where the Wild Things Are, in which a seemingly utopian environment becomes the setting for a savage power struggle leading to wounded friendships.

True to the ebb and flow of distant memories themselves, the film is non-narrative, structured instead by stand-alone scenes that fade out and into each other. It retains the feel of a clip, rather like the music video to "The Suburbs".

Maike Mia Höhne, the curator of the Berlinale Shorts programme, which has been going for five years, says of the film: "I like its look, its storytelling, beauty and emotion, its future/past tense and the overall feeling of a romantic view into the past. Spike Jonze and Will and Win Butler wrote a script that extends by far the length of a music video, but at the same time uses its most unique strength – its non-narrative approach giving a deep inner feeling.

"The market for short films is an important one and will be much bigger in the future due to the digitalisation of cinema. Scenes from the Suburbs is an independent film giving an idea of the strength and emotional power of short films."

The film is rumoured to be released as part of a new, expanded edition of The Suburbs later this year. I hope it is – it illuminates the themes of one of the best albums of 2010, while mirroring its powerful emotions.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?