This saga, an Icelandic-Swedish co-production, has epic sweep, rousing adventure, engrossing drama, and a beautiful heroine. It is also unusually intelligent and sometimes wildly funny--a film with something for anyone who doesn't mind reading subtitles.
"You said Iceland was a peaceful land," cries the artist "Leonardo" as the film begins. The artist is being brought to Iceland's craggy coast from Norway in the year 1077 by the story's hero, Trausti (Renir Brynolfsson), to paint an altarpiece for his mother's Christian chapel. The chapel is
dedicated to Trausti's dead father, interred in a Viking temple built to honor the Norse god Odin. The apparent religious contradiction introduces the film's historical subject--the tumultuous introduction of "modern" Christianity to the ancient pagan Icelandic culture. In truth, the country is
anything but peaceful. Like Moses returning from the mountain, Trausti returns from Norway to find his country slipping back into barbarism. He lands in the middle of a pitched battle over the carcass of a whale beached on the shore. The battle pits Trausti's family against that of Eric, and soon
Eric's forces retreat, but not before mortally wounding Trausti's mother. Trausti and his lieutenant, Grim, pursue Eric, Trausti to negotiate a Christian peace, Grim to extract revenge. Grim gets to Eric first and slays him, an act which Isold (Tinna Gunnlaugsdottir), Eric's beautiful daughter,
believes was committed by Trausti. She swears revenge, but has a change of heart when Hjorlief (Egil Olafsson), her betrothed, challenges Trausti to a duel to avenge the death of Eric. Trausti wins the duel, but refuses to kill Hjorlief, an act of Christian benevolence that wins the heart of
Isold. A wedding is arranged between Trausti and Isold, but more violence looms ahead as Hjorlief still craves revenge and Grim, disgusted by what he perceives to be Trausti's cowardice, switches his allegiance to Trausti's rivals.
This is one wild Viking ride, a variation on the "Tristan and Isolde" saga, that is filled with burning, pillaging, and looting, not to mention a lot of spitting, the way in which Icelanders show contempt for their enemies. But for all that, and for assembling a truly ugly cast, THE SHADOW OF THE
RAVEN at heart is an absorbing, intelligent film, combining epic sweep and gritty realism with a strong storyline and vividly drawn characters. Though tersely written and forcefully directed by Hrafn Gunnlaugsson, what really gives the film its dramatic spine is its effective use of historical
movement as the motivator of its action, recalling the classic American westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks. The film has a kinship to the work of Ford most obviously in its expressive use of landscapes and settings as Iceland's cliffs, glaciers, and rocky shorelines become mute, unforgiving
supporting players in the elemental human drama. This is a rare action epic made all the more entertaining by its depth and intelligence, a classically styled popcorn programmer with a flair for the outrageous and sublime. (Violence, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: NR
- Review: This saga, an Icelandic-Swedish co-production, has epic sweep, rousing adventure, engrossing drama, and a beautiful heroine. It is also unusually intelligent and sometimes wildly funny--a film with something for anyone who doesn't mind reading subtitles.… (more)