Based on true events, Felix Randau’s Iceman (2017) explores the story of one of the most sensational discoveries of the 20th Century. In 1991, two unwitting hikers exploring the Italian-Austrian border made the discovery of a lifetime when they uncovered the oldest human body known to man.
The case is known as Ötzi, referring to the location of the Ötztal Alps where the ancient remains were found. Now, German director, Felix Randau tells the fascinating backstory of this extraordinary find and the endeavours of the man behind the ‘mummy’, in this riveting historical, revenge drama.
Set over 5,300 years ago; a Neolithic tribe go about their everyday business, hunting, gathering and ensuring their clan is fed, clothed and sheltered. Aesthetically, their stone-age habitat appears primitive, however as the history books tells us, their time marked early advancements in technological development, through the creation of tools and weapons, and basic housing/shelter. The tribe would hunt and kill for food and most of all, protect one another from external threats.
Leading the clan, is Kelab (Jürgen Vogel) who one day would become the most extensively studied human in the world following his fortuitous discovery more than 25 years ago. His family are targeted and brutally attacked by a rival tribe, who rob them of a religious artefact. No man, woman or child is safe and are savagely slain in a merciless killing. Now isolated, Kelab undergoes a quest for revenge and to recover the artefact that is rightfully his. Blood is set to spill as the story of the oldest human remains and how they got there is brought to life.
Iceman is a slow-burn, which requires complete engrossment and full attention to appreciate it. It’s not the kind of film that can be played in the background while engaging in domestic activities.
Marvellously; Randau opted to tell the story with minimal dialogue and when dialogue is spoken it is untranslatable to our Western audience. To allow a sense of real authenticity, Randau researched the kind of language that would have been spoken at that point in history. The disclaimer at the beginning of the film explains that the characters depicted ‘speak an early version of the Rhaetic Language. Translation is not required to comprehend the story’. This is a highly audacious approach to undertake and Randau should be commended for not shying away from creating something different, bona fide and as true as can be to the real events. He presents the story through visual, raw emotion which is a testament to the performances.
Iceman features the most breath-taking scenery and pristine cinematography put to film. Cinematographer Jakub Bejnarowicz fully utilizes the stunning locations with captivating wide shots of the landscape and sweeping camera work of the mountains. There’s a real depth to the film’s visual aesthetic, it’s a splendour to behold. He captures the beauty of the surroundings contrasting with the ferocity and violence of the human condition, offering up a consistent, plaintive tone.
There is a gut-wrenching sound design which amplifies the barbaric brutality of human interaction, this works effectively, considering the film encompasses a quiet ambience for the most part. The whole film was shot on location, the majority in South Tyrol, not far from where the body was originally unearthed. Again, the lack of a film studio present makes way for as much legitimacy as possible to the subject matter.
The past is unforgiving, a notion which is heavily grounded into the film. Survival is imperative in a non-authoritarian society, contributing to a bleak outlook filled with tragedy and poignancy. Randau presents a culture we are unfamiliar with, worlds apart from modern day trivialities and the relatively safe society we are accustomed to. While there is an uncertainty that the true events played out the way they did in the film, Randau undertook extensive research to recreate the history as accurate as he could, namely from the autopsy results of his subject.
Unflinching, experimental, challenging and divergent; Iceman is an exceptional film that teaches us that we can learn from the past to excel our future. It’s truly astonishing to think how far we have come as a species and how the world represented within the film is unrecognisable today. Felix Randau has created an accomplished piece of film, what we see on screen has taken a great deal of care and research, to unlock an integral, fascinating piece of history.
ICEMAN was released in UK cinemas on Friday 27th July