Why is it that a classical spaghetti western gets so much better if you move it to a new environment?
Swap the desert for a desolate Icelandic landscape, trade the guns for casting knives and let the tough guys ride ponies instead of traditional horses and suddenly it feels fresh, cool and interesting to watch. Don’t ask me why. Vikings are simply more badass than cowboys.
When the Raven Flies became hugely popular in Sweden when it was launched in 1984. Curiously enough it wasn’t as well received on Iceland as far as I understand it from internet resources. But that’s life, isn’t it? Your own people are always the ones who are hardest to convince.
Recently I’ve found myself mentioning this movie a lot to people, encouraging them to watch it for one reason or another. But since it’s been so many years since I watched it I started to worry a bit. My recollections weren’t all that clear anymore. What if I was wrong to recommend it? Would this movie still hold up after all those years? I decided to make a revisit to make sure I knew what I was talking about.
I needn’t have worried though. It was pretty much the same as I remembered it. People die all the time. Revenge needs to be claimed. The camera alters between close-ups and panoramas over the barren landscape. Very little is said.
To be honest, it’s not by any means a “perfect” movie, if such a thing exists. The soundtrack is a little bit corny at times and not all actors are splendid, but hey, what can you expect from a nation with a population of about 300 000? There can’t be much of a competition.
It’s not all truly original either. In its core, it’s pretty much the same story as Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. One hero plays out two families against each other.
But weaknesses and possible lack of originality doesn’t matter to me. There’s so much to love anyway. How often have you heard Icelandic spoken in a film? It made me want to sign for a language course right away! It’s the language of the fairy tales.
The setting is fantastic – a timeless landscape which is perfect for a story taking place far back in time. I came to think of how strange it is that historical Iceland hasn’t been used more than it has in on the movie screen. There should be a lot of unexplored ideas in the sagas that could be the inspiration for some excellent action.
Until we’ll see a new wave of Icelandic historical action movies I’ll comfort myself with the one line that I think is what first comes to mind for anyone who has watched When the Raven Flies:
“Þungur hnífur, “Tungur knifur” (Don’t ask me to explain how to pronounce it.) “Heavy knife”.
That’s all you need.
When the Raven Flies (a.k.a The Revenge of the Barbarians, orig title Hrafninn flýgur, Hrafn Gunnlaugsson, IS, 1984) My rating: 4/5