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Review: ‘Iceman’s’ Neolithic murder mystery and stunning scenery set it apart

Iceman
Jürgen Vogel in the movie “Iceman.”
(Martin Rattini / Film Movement)

An archaeological murder mystery is rendered with serviceably visceral flair in German filmmaker Felix Randau’s Neolithic saga “Iceman.” It’s the kind of movie one can easily imagine Mel Gibson growing a beard, learning an ancient language and honing a vengeful howl for should it ever be remade.

Inspired by the supposed life of a frozen, arrow-slain Copper Age hunter discovered in 1991 in Central Europe’s Ötztal Alps, Randau extrapolates a familiar odyssey for Ötzi the Iceman (Jürgen Vogel) intended to suggest a moral pivot point in humankind’s history. Named Kelab in this scenario, he’s a farming, animal-raising, tent-dwelling family man entrusted with the protection of his tight-knit mountain tribe’s precious box shrine, which they call “Tineka” but which isn’t translated for us because “Iceman” doesn’t provide subtitles for the Rhaetic language grunted by its fur-and-leather-clad, woolly-haired performers. (In a rather cocky touch, an introductory note by the filmmakers declares you won’t need them.)

When traveling marauders slaughter Kelab’s family, burn his village and steal Tineka, Kelab — who’d been away hunting — grabs his copper ax, surviving infant child and one goat (cleverly utilized for feeding the baby), and begins his alp-traversing journey toward retribution. Marked by stunning locations and Jakub Bejnarowicz’s fleet, evocative cinematography, “Iceman” is almost like something unearthed itself: a recognizable B western sharpened as much by its glints of psychology as by its kinetic savagery. When you learn what Tineka is, you might roll your eyes, but there’s enough skill in the film’s sweep and bluntness to distinguish itself.

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‘Iceman’

In Rhaetian

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Playing: Starts March 15, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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