'Avicii: True Stories': Film Review

Powerfully illustrates the price of fame.
12/14/2018

Levan Tsikurishvili's documentary provides an intimate, behind-the-scenes portrait of the late Swedish superstar DJ.

"It got to a point where I didn't like it anymore."

That statement, uttered by Avicii in Levan Tsikurishvili's documentary, refers to his stunning 2016 decision to retire from touring. But it takes on a haunting new dimension in the aftermath of his suicide two years later. Chronicling several years in the life and career of the Swedish superstar DJ, Avicii: True Stories delivers a visceral portrait of the personal cost that can arise from a meteoric rise to fame.

Avicii, whose real name was Tim Bergling, achieved stunning success as a Grammy-nominated composer, producer and remixer. Known for his perfectionism and relentless touring schedule, he was only 21 when he achieved breakout success with his international chart-topping single "Levels." During his brief career he performed at more than 800 live shows, many of them in front of massive audiences at arenas and stadiums.

The film, shot over four years by Tsikurishvili, a frequent collaborator of Avicii's, delivers a highly intimate, behind-the-scenes portrait of the artist, who talks freely about his personal demons. At first, Avicii reveled in his success and fully indulged in the hedonistic perks accompanying it. "Every show was like a party," he comments. But eventually his relentless schedule and workaholic tendencies exerted a major toll. His health suffered as he began taking drugs and drinking heavily, often to overcome his terrible anxiety before concerts.

The documentary includes footage shot during one of his hospital stays for acute pancreatitis. Both his appendix and gall bladder ruptured, and he frequently suffered from stomach pain. Depending on when the footage was shot, he either looks vibrantly healthy or sadly debilitated from the excesses of his lifestyle and his self-admitted mental health issues. The film puts much of the blame for his troubles on Ash Pournouri, Avicii's ambitious, hard-driving manager, who encouraged his workaholic behavior.

The many scenes showing Avicii in the studio, either alone or with superstar collaborators like Coldplay's Chris Martin, vividly illustrate that he was happiest working on his music. The film includes numerous interviews with such contemporaries as David Guetta, Wyclef Jean, Nile Rodgers and Tiesto, who attest to his brilliance and comment on his personal difficulties. Extensive concert footage showcases the rapturous effect his music had on his audiences.

The film, completed in 2017, ends on an ironically hopeful note, showing Avicii relaxed and happy after having decided to forego touring. There is no postscript making note of his death at age 28, a decision that feels curious for this belated, Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. On the other hand, perhaps its inclusion would have felt too-heavy handed, as nearly everyone interested in seeing the film no doubt is aware of its subject's tragic fate.

Production companies: Black Dalmatian Films, SF Bio, Piece of Magic Entertainment
Director-screenwriter: Levan Tsikurishvili
Producers: Levan Tsikurishvili, Jonathan Waldefeldt
Executive producer: Danial Neander
Directors of photography: Olle Knutson Hjerten, Aidan Kelly, Sebastian Kris, Christoffer Kirstiansson, Marcus Lindgren, Carl Lindstrom, Marcus Moller, Andres Rignell, Albin Sjodin, Levan Tsikurishvili

Music: Tomas Kollder, Koki Lortkipanidze
Editors: Karl Johan Lindvall, Franceso Loi, Nils Mostrom, Levan Tsikurishvili

97 minutes