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The Dark Valley | DVD Review

Andreas Prochaska The Dark Valley DVD ReviewArriving on DVD without having experienced a US theatrical release, The Dark Valley toured several smaller film festivals after premiering a year ago at the Berlin International Film Festival. Multiple category winner at both the German Film and Bavarian Film Awards, with a stop at Karlovy Vary and a late 2014 North American stint, which included programming in the mini German Currents events in Los Angeles, it’s unfortunate the title didn’t receive a wider platform considering its rather curious elements.

Selected as Austria’s entry for this year’s Foreign Language Oscar submission, this is perhaps director Andreas Prochaska’s most accomplished narrative effort, as he’s generally steeped in television or pulpy genre. His latest, a by-the-numbers Western, captures a rather poetic ambience, even as it manages to neglect both its protagonist and rather garish details that skews the film into horror film territory. UK star Sam Riley headlines the feature to grant it an even more hybridized feel of this adaptation of Thomas Willmann’s novel.

In the late 19th century, a mysterious stranger, Grieder (Riley) rides into an Austrian mountain village. The people are unaccustomed to strangers, isolated high above everyone in the mountains. A photographer, his reasons for staying seem unclear, but he befriends a young woman, Luzi (Paula Beer) and her widowed mother (Carmen Gratl), with whom he lodges. Quickly he learns that the law of the land is the Brenner clan, run by an aging patriarch (Hans-Michael Rehberg). Cruel and miserable, his six adult boys have adopted some strange customs in the region, long standing traditions that happen to be the reason that the American born Grieder has showed up on their doorstep.

Prochaska, who used to serve as editor for Michael Haneke (The Castle; Funny Games; Code Unknown) proves to be adept at creating an arresting tableaux, using anachronistic music quite effectively. But The Dark Valley is hobbled by insistent omniscient narration from supporting character Luzi, who feeds us information at will, such as when Greider goes to confession, and his background is relayed to us in moderated flashback. Reminiscent of a slew of revenge driven vintage American Westerns, one wishes Proschaska and screenwriter Martin Ambrosch had taken more pains to pare down the tale’s crippling spoon-feeding. As Grieder’s past is revealed, (and therefore his motives for vengeance), the present day correlation about to be experienced by Luzi and her groom feels a titch convenient. Likewise, Proschaska spends little time fleshing out the Brenner clan, which could have made for some effective tension. As it stands at nearly two hours, the narrative’s simplicity would have been better served with a less protracted introduction.

As the mysterious stranger, UK actor Sam Riley is initially an interesting accent, but he doesn’t have the screen presence of a Gary Cooper or Clint Eastwood that The Dark Valley is attempting to emulate. His presence should generate a certain amount of additional international interest, even if Proschaska’s determination to keep him brooding and mysterious works rather as a disservice to his performance. Still, Thomas Kiennast’s painterly frames and a moody score from Matthias Weber (assisted by tracks from Streaming Satellites and One Two Three Cheers and a Tiger) create a compelling syncopation of sight and sound in the second half of the film.

Disc Review:

The title receives the customary DVD treatment from Film Movement, sans the Blu-ray option. However, an attempt to enhance the release with special features doesn’t go unnoticed. Presented in widescreen 2.35:1 with 5.1 Surround Sound, the presentation is standard, but a behind the scenes features, deleted scenes, and the inclusion of a short film (as is per usual with Film Movement) is greatly appreciated.

Behind the Scenes Featurette:
Nearly forty five minutes in length, director Andreas Prochaska speaks about this dream opportunity, while producers and author of the source novel Thomas Willmann speaks of the relationship he developed with the director to entrust the adaptation. Prochaska admits it was difficult to condense Willmann’s ornate and lengthy expositions.

Three Never Before Seen Deleted Scenes:
Three scenes, each about one to two minutes in length, feature additional exposition from the narrator relating to Grieder’s mirror, and an interaction between Grieder and Luzi.

“The Gunfighter” – Dir. Eric Kissack:
For thematic continuity, Film Movement includes this short western about a gunslinger who walks into saloon with an unexpected result as it plays with classic conventions with the genre.

Final Thoughts:

Opening with a crime that we’ll come to revisit later in the narrative, The Dark Valley suffers from some cheesy flourishes. “There are things that can never be forgotten,” we’re told amid the screaming violence of the first act—yet we actually do kinda forget what happened as the films moves on after that hubbub. But beyond a pair of beautiful slow motion kill sequences, the best dialogue driven scene involves Riley exacting sweet, sweet vengeance on a greedy old inn keeper, forcing her to choke down a handful of coins.

Film: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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