Hrafn Gunnlaugsson, the Icelandic director of "Shadow of the Raven," has been compared favorably with Andrei Tarkovsky, John Ford and Akira Kurosawa. Unfortunately, the only comparisons that came to my mind were far less lofty.
Set in 1077, the film is Tristan and Isolde with Vikings. One, whose name is Grim and who looks like Buddy Ebsen with his teeth out, starts the narrative ball rolling when he discovers a beached whale. "Lunch!" he screams, pulling two slices of Wonder Bread from his knapsack. But before he can tie his napkin around his neck, a rival group has laid out candles and a red-and-white checkered tablecloth on the whale's back. A fight ensues, and the maitre d' has to separate them.
If, in fact, the above had happened, it might have made more sense or provided more enjoyment. As it is, some obscure village rivalries -- sparked (no kidding) by a beached whale -- are played out by characters whose relationships are never entirely clear and whose loyalties seem to change at a moment's notice. And the fact that Gunnlaugsson brings a stirring visual muscularity to some of the battles does very little to compensate for the long, turgid passages of talky bickering and hysterically bad acting. At one point everybody heads for the sauna, and when this Grim character strips down, I admit I couldn't watch. I just couldn't.
Shadow of the Raven, at the Biograph, is unrated.