Friday, April 10, 2015

Film Review: The Dark Valley/ Das finstere Tal (2014)

Copyright: Films Distribution
I’m pretty certain that almost any Dark Valley review will conclude that Austria and neo-westerns actually go pretty well together, in spite of the fact that this combo at first sounds likes a beginning of a really bad joke that few people will even get. 

But, just like the militant outlook on life or we-took-some-gold-from-some-really-bad-people-and-still-don’t-want-to-give-it-back mindset that are still apparently lurking in the depths of the region’s nations collective unconscious (for me, the film seems like it is actually located more in Switzerland that Austria, which was anything by decentralized in that period), but are rarely (if ever) present in any open discourse, this film also deal with things that are apparent and those which are dark and hidden.

The Dark Valley (Das finstere Tal in original) opens by showing that it is really easy to live however you want if you’re in the 19th century and located in a remote, almost unknown valley in the Alps region. There, a village is run by the Brenner clan, a single family whose sons are the only ones who can carry firearms. One day, a mysterious stranger bearing a photographic camera arrives in the village with the purpose of making some photos. The Brenner brothers agree and gradually, winter sets in, meaning that no one can leave the village until spring.

Dark Valley begins in a strong manner, showing a world ruled by fear and much localized, but still very brutal tyranny. Here, director Andreas Prochaska makes most of the barren settings, both interior and exterior. There, in the snow-covered wilderness or inside of humble village homes, there is nowhere to hide and nowhere to run. No one will offer aid and there is nothing to grab onto once the monsters begin to converge on you. This claustrophobic and grim certainty is perfectly presented by Prochaska and is a fine springboard for Sam Riley who plays the mysterious stranger.

Unlike the villagers, he is not afraid. Instead, he is there with a clear purpose and this determination, often completely unspoken, shines like a torch in a blizzard. Riley, who is not even a native German speaker (the entire film is in German, spoken in a weird, presumably mountainous accent), pulls the role in a great style which he has not present since the movie Control. Once the narratives of the film begin to converge, so does a presence appears over the village, bringing retribution and resolution from below its dark winds.

Like The Salvation, another non-US neo-western, Dark Valley shows that there is a strong European drive in this unlikely genre, which is for me very exciting. I would not go so far in this Dark Valley review to state that there is some kind of a broader sociological exploration of a mountain-dwelling culture (hint – Switzerland of today), but still this film provides a lot of substance with its undoubtedly impressive visual presentation. This combination made it into a very good final product that is both a US culture export and local Austrian-Swiss-German work of art.