Outlaw: The Saga of Gisli

Dir: Agust Guomundsson
Star: Arnar Jonsson, Tinna Gunnlaugsdottir, Helgi Skulason, Ragnheidur Steindorsdottir

Yeah, the above names are probably missing any number of acutes, graves and funny scrawls that I don't even know what to call. Such is the nature of Icelandic, a language that appears to live in some Nth-dimension of characters beyond a regular keyboard. This isn't quite the first Icelandic movie I've ever seen [I recall one called Remote Control at the London Film Festival in the early nineties], but it's close to it: I haven't even seen the sublimely-named Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre. However, we have been enjoying local cop series Svartir englar (Black Angels), and also the History Channel series, Vikings. So an Icelandic film about Vikings? Gotta be a winner. Hasn't it?

Not so fast. The story is intriguing, at least in high concept. There are two clans of Vikings; when one man is murdered in his bed, Gisli (Jonsson) takes it upon himself to extract vengeance, killing the man he believes responsible - who also happens to be married to Gisli's sister, Thordis (Gunnlaugsdottir). Oh, and Gisli's wife is also the sister of the first man killed. Seriously, you need some kind of chart to keep track of this one, since it seems everybody is bearded and muscular. And the men are even more similar, hohoho. After a significant amount of shuffling between camps, Gisli makes the wise decision to go on the run, just before the clansmen of his victim show up for his intestines.

Which is where the film becomes more interesting, even if a) you wonder why it took so long to get there, and b) Iceland appears to be about the size of a football pitch, going by the frequency with which Gisli and his pursuers bump into each other. There's some tension in this series of narrow escapes, probably the best has him hiding under the bed of a friendly family, and the wife basically fights off the search party with the sharp edge of her tongue, forcing them out after a token sweep. The problem is, this is the best fight in the movie, the actual hand-to-hand stuff maybe reaching the level of bad amateur dramatics. Like much of the film, it's probably a realistic enough depiction - but worthy though that may be, give me the cinematic version, any day.

[January 2015]

Viking lander
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