An actionful drama that takes place in a decidedly bygone era.


Jürgen Vogel


This is a film that was always going to be unusual but might have ended up by being banal. Its writer/director, the German-born Felix Randau, had the idea of creating a drama telling what might have happened to a man who lived 5,300 years ago. The event that triggered this idea was the discovery of a mummified corpse from that era in the Otztal Alps in 1991. Examination of the body confirmed that the man had been felled by an arrow and was in his forties. Working backwards from that, Randau came up with a revenge saga fitted to life in those distant times that would lead to his central figure dying in the same way as this real-life person.


The tale that Randau tells is a decidedly tough one of a man (Jürgen Vogel) seeking vengeance after three members of a rival tribe have raided his homestead and killed almost everyone there including his wife and son. Such a plot is almost too familiar in cinema and the novelty of the setting might not have helped since it could have led to dialogue which, in attempting to fit the primitive times, might well have come across as banal and unpersuasive. But Randau then had the inspiration that makes Iceman stand out: his cast use the ancient Rhaetian language of the period without their words being translated into subtitles. Consequently, Iceman is a film that has to convey what is happening entirely though visuals. That makes it distinctive and gives it a conviction and an identity all its own, even though it does indirectly remind one of the Ukrainian film The Tribe made in 2014 which in a modern context told a story of deaf people using only sign language and providing no subtitles.


This approach does mean that the significance of a precious box stolen by the marauding raiders remains obscure. Not surprisingly, some reviewers have seen it as a Hitchcockian MacGuffin and, even if recovering it is supposed to be important, in fact the revenge theme is quite enough to carry the cross-country pursuit that makes up most of Iceman. En route, the bereaved man encounters various individuals who may help him or may instead prove hostile, thus creating extra tension. Randau's film lacks the imaginative artistry of The Revenant with which some have compared it, but it is in fact very well made. Vogel is a strong central presence, the harsh landscape makes a vivid background (the film is in 'Scope and colour) and Beat Solèr's music score is apt and not overused. In short, while watching Iceman we believe in what we are seeing and that is an achievement in itself even if it is the period setting rather than the story that gives the film weight.




Cast: Jürgen Vogel. André M. Hennicke, Sabin Tambrea, Susanne Wuest, Martin Augustin Schneider, Violetta Schurawlow, Anna F, Franco Nero, Axel Stein, Paula Renzler.


Dir Felix Randau, Pro Jan Krüger, Screenplay Felix Randau, Ph Jakub Bejnarowicz, Pro Des Juliane Friedrich, Ed Vessela Martschewski, Music Beat Solèr, Costumes Cinzia Cioffi.

Port-au-Prince/Echo Film/Lucky Bird Pictures/Amour Fou/ZDF - Das kleine Fernsehspiel/ARTE-Bulldog Film Distribution.
96 mins. Germany/Italy/Austria. 2017. Rel: 27 July 2018. Cert. 15.