‘Iceman’ Review: Ötzi the Neolithic Mummy Gets a Fictionalized Biopic

An extraordinary premise gets a slightly ordinary workout in Felix Randau’s meticulously mounted but narratively simplistic “Iceman,” an imagining of the last days in the life of the man we now know affectionately as Ötzi, whose mummified remains were found in the Alps in 1991, and were subsequently discovered to date back to 3300 B.C. It’s an anthropologically depressing but dramaturgically promising fact that the oldest European we’ve found apparently died a violent, unnatural death: He had an arrowhead lodged inside him, four different types of blood on his body and likely died from blunt force head trauma. But while Randau’s script might more or less account for these findings, there’s little additional texture or philosophy to the film. “Iceman” is a straight-up, linear revenge story, a kind of Chalcolithic “Taken,” in which our hero’s very specific set of skills include fire-building, deer-hunting and the economical reuse of arrows.

The film’s most daring flourish is that the dialogue is in early Rhaetian — an extinct language believed to have been in use at the time in the region — and it eschews subtitles entirely. “Translation is not required to understand this story,” reads a pre-title, suggesting that either the filmmaking will be so exceptional that subtle cues can be delivered non-verbally, or that the story will be fairly schematic. Disappointingly, the latter turns out to be the case, although the widescreen vistas of the craggy, snowladen Alps, and the appropriately swooping and soaring score at least give the slender tale an epic backdrop.

He-who-will-be-Ötzi-in-5,300-years’-time (named Kelab in press notes, and played by German actor Jürgen Vogel), is the leader of a small Alpine clan, introduced to audiences during a bout of Neolithic coitus interruptus: His neighbor’s wife is in the throes of labor, and when she dies in childbirth (Randau lays down a marker with rutting sex and agonized death occurring in the first couple of minutes), Kelab is called upon to perform an arcane ritual over her body. It involves a smooth-hewn wooden box that remains a mystery until the end, though it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that its contents aren’t particularly edifying; the box suggests the invention of the MacGuffin predates that of the wheel.

After this dramatic beginning, there’s a breather as life in the little enclave goes on, giving the…

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