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THE Valley

The Valley (Obscured by Clouds)
Home Vision Entertainment
1972 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 /106 min. / La Vallée / Street Date February 25, 2003 / $19.95
Starring Bulle Ogier, Michael Gothard, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Jérome Beauvarlet, Monique Giraudy, Valérie Lagrange
Cinematography Néstor Almendros
Film Editor Denise de Casabianca
Original Music Pink Floyd: David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, Richard Wright
Written by Barbet Schroeder and Paul Gégauff
Produced by Mike Kaplan
Directed by Barbet Schroeder

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

At last, a vintage 'trippy' film with some guts. The entire 'head trip' subgenre of late 60s / early 70s has a real credibility problem. Most of the films that seriously invited us to consider dropping out into a more mellow plane of existence now appear exploitative, naive or laughable. For a few months around 1970, almost every picture had its 'far out' aspect, that was at best good-hearted (Alice's Restaurant) but usually bone-headed to the point of distraction (Zachariah, Gassss...).

Home Vision Entertainment has dug deep to uncover a real obscurity, a pretty amazing film by iconoclastic director Barbet Schroeder, La Vallée. While Hip Hollywood was whipping up fake enlightenment on Malibu Beach, a few adventurous individualists sought something special by heading for the hills. Werner Herzog and Dennis Hopper went to Peru but Schroeder and his hardy bunch took off for an even more remote location, a literal end of the Earth. The movie they brought back is as trippy as anyone's, but for credibility and class I haven't seen better.


Bored French fashion buyer Viviane (Bulle Ogier) meets an odd lot of hippie adventurers while trying to acquire illegal bird feathers in a New Guinea trading village. Olivier (Michael Gothard) is the mechanic and guide for Gaetan (Jean-Pierre Kalfon)'s group of free-thinking seekers; Viviane hitches a ride with them for a chance to score the plumage and is seduced into their little utopian quest - to penetrate into unmapped and unknown interior valleys, from where previous explorers have never returned. Shedding her silks and Gucci bags, Viviane becomes one of the commune spiritually and sexually as they abandon all traces of civilization. At the final jumping-off point of their journey they're welcomed by a primitive tribe who even themselves won't venture into the region that legend says may be Paradise on Earth.

A picture about a plunge into the unknown, The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) sounds as if it will be a combo of The Lost World and Easy Rider with a bit of Lost Horizon thrown in for good measure. What we get is instead an entirely believable trek into the forested highlands, where we constantly wonder how Schroeder and legendary cameraman Néstor Almendros were able to keep their cameras running and lenses clean, let alone avoid the defections of crew and actors.

The simple story has cosmopolitan materialist Viviane slowly abandon all worldly concerns - her business, her husband, her life - and instead throw her lot in with a quintet of idealistic types who can only parenthetically be described as 'hippies.' Burly Gaetan has attracted two female consorts (and a child) to his quest but doesn't come off as a macho type. The closest the film comes to a standard counterculture scene is when Hermine explains to Viviane the difference between possessive sex and the free love situation that the little group has found. A later intimate exchange (intriguingly on the end of a mastershot involving hundreds of natives) hits a more unique note. Viviane, who is ecstatic about participating in the native rituals, is reminded by the disillusioned Olivier that the primitive culture she's celebrating is far less free than her own. The tribesmen may be open and uncomplicated but they live in fear, are obsessed with taboos and their customs are especially harsh on women.

National Geographic addicts will flip. The group meets only a handful of whites, mostly rough Australians with no time to waste on ethereal cereal types. Viviane keeps the expedition on track by giving a fortune in cash to a pair of highland pirates who initially refuse to sell their horses: "What horses? I don't see any fucking horses." The landscape they cover is clearly remote and wild and every time they snuggle into the roots of a tree or play with a wild animal, we think how far up a creek they'd be if somebody got snake-bit.

The sex is basic, brief and unadorned with trippy effects of any kind. Viviane considers herself sufficiently free to bed down with the attractive Olivier. Later on she joins the fold by coupling with Gaetan at the base of really bizarre tree with huge hanging roots that ooze a drinkable elixir-like liquid. The plant is obviously real, but comes off like some kind of sexually-hyped phallic Triffid. The cool thing about The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) is that it has the trappings of fantasy, but everything in it is unhyped reality.

Amid the sex, the wigging out on local drugs and the somnambulent, creeping Pink Floyd music (surely a major draw for a certain contingent of DVD buyers) is a balancing practicality. Gaetan and Co's quest for the Forbidden valley of Paradise remains an idealistic rumor, almost an excuse to turn one's back on reality. But reality consistently gets the upper hand. Tripping out with a green tree snake, Viviane receives exactly what she asks for, a nasty bite. Such little reminders are needed to quell the idea that anyone with a land rover can leap into remote boondock areas and come back in one piece. Heck, there might be cannibals out there. Or inbred hillbillies who play the banjo. Or icky bugs. Look up 'liver flukes' in the encyclopedia sometime.

The interaction with the primitive tribe is pretty amazing. These are 'natural' people with little inhibition or self-consciousness by Western standards, and Schroeder gets great intimate footage of their interaction with the visitors, all of it remarkable in its lucidity.

Part of the interest in following The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) to its end is wondering how an Easy-Rider quest like this one is going to be resolved. The subject of this particular show is really the journey, but the mysterious ending turns out to be eerily satisfying.

The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) was made by a stellar roster of talent. Bulle Ogier is a familiar face from many a weird artistic effort - Le Salamandre, Sérail, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Michael Gothard has a short but impressive filmograpy (The Three Musketeers, Scream and Scream Again, The Devils, Lifeforce), and his name also shows up in a mysterious & legendary art film from 1967 called Herostratus that I really want to get a look at someday. Jean-Pierre Kalfon (Birds in Peru, The Dogs of War) and Valérie Legrange (Satyricon) both played radicals in Jean-Luc Godard's Week End.

Ace screenwriter Paul Gégauff (The Cousins, Les Bonnes Femmes, The Beast Must Die, Purple Noon) apparently began with director Schroeder on an earlier, less acclaimed counterculture epic called More, also with music by Pink Floyd. Schroeder and cameraman Almendros took another adventurous step into danger a few years later, with their docu on the murderous dictator, General Idi Amin Dada.

Home Vision's handsome DVD of The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) has a colorful and mostly perfect enhanced picture, and a clear audio track - the highland rainforest pops out at us. Never fear, Pink Floyd's score is mono but undistorted. There's a bit of film damage a few minutes in, that HVe's cover text duly points out; it only lasts a second. There are several moments in the film as sensual as the photo on the back of the package, but I didn't see a scene that matches that particular one ... one does get the clear idea that the filming trek into the unknown, was just as uninhibited as what we see in the film.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: text essay
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 9, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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