Despite his undeniable talent for creating truly mysterious, engaging and, to some extent, murky atmospheres in each and every one of the films he has directed Robert Eggers (“La Bruja” in 2015, “El Faro” in 2019, and this recently released, “The Northman”) I always have a certain aftertaste of dissatisfaction.
In the case of the latter, the key is given by Eggers himself in the film’s presentation interviews when he states: “This is me trying to make Conan the Barbarian through Andrei Rublev”.
I think that is precisely where my biggest problem with his Cinema lies. In that always staying at half gas. His cinema lacks the overwhelming viscerality and narrative power of John Milius and, of course, nothing to say about the blasphemous audacity of comparing himself with Tarkovsky.
Eggers wants to please everyone (both brainy critics and the majority public) and it is in this endeavor that his films derail. Even so, I can’t say categorically that “The Man from the North” has completely displeased me. From the outset, technically, it is an irreproachable film.
With a large budget ranging between 70 and 90 million dollars, a powerful studio behind him (Focus Features, Universal Pictures’ independent label) and a spectacular cast led by Alexander Skarsgard which has the participation of Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and even the hitherto unlikely return to the world of cinema of the singer björk; Eggers, has embarked on a titanic production to tell us what is nothing more than a simple story of revenge, a Viking movie set in Iceland in the s. X.
Actually, it is the adaptation of the legend that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet. To build the script inspired by that nordic saga which tells the gruesome story of Prince Amleth, Eggers enlisted the help of renowned Icelandic poet Sjon, with which he has tried to achieve the greatest possible accuracy in capturing that Viking ritual universe in which the fantastic and the tangible were sometimes difficult to discern.
As in “The Lighthouse”, Eggers tries to visually disturb the viewer by resorting to the tawdry, the dirty, taking up again the taste for the scatological, the violent and even the gory, but without ever daring to sink his knees in the mud. “The man from the north” cowers and it deflates when it tries to approach any of its referents.
He never reaches the audacity of “How difficult it is to be a god” of Alexey German or the obscenity of “Valhalla Rising” Nicolas Winding Refnand consequently, the result is, that his Vikings are a bit filthier and more disheveled, although not as much, than those created by Michael Harts.
Taking into account the complexity of the shoot (with a single chamber and under extreme temperatures) and the lacerating intervention of Focus Features (fearing the inevitable box office crash) in post-production (that even forced to rewrite passages of the script that were later embedded through a complex dubbing system) we can affirm that “The Man from the North” has a certain magnetism and far exceeds the approved one, although Eggers has not reached the long-awaited Valhalla with his Viking epic and we have to continue waiting for a film of his that is rounder than the first three.