THE DARK VALLEY (Das finstere Tal) 
Directed by Andreas Prochaska
This Austrian film played last year at a German film festival, but stupidly I was too lazy to go out and catch a screening. After watching it recently, I really regret the decision as it would have looked stunning on a big screen. There is so much scenery to chew on and absorb as we follow a lone American, Greider, who has come to a small town up in the Alps, apparently to take photos of the valleys using a camera, a box that looks utterly out of place within the old town, much like Greider himself. Given the film is based in Austria, the name Greider is a clue as to what this film is about, and it isn’t anything new, especially for a western. However, it has enough meat on its bones to warrant further viewings, and the execution, for the most part, is amazing.
The town Greider arrives in operates in a certain way, all overseen by ‘Old Brenner’ and his six sons. I went in blind which made the way this town works fascinating and confusing at times, in a good way, so I won’t go into details, other than to say that the way the town operates revolves around young, newly-wed wives. It is at times disturbing, but much like The Homesman and The Salvation, it is a portrayal of how women were treated years and years ago. It is heavy emotionally, which means we genuinely feel for the characters who are on the receiving end.
As mentioned, the film is a cinematographic treat. Every scene looks amazing, whether it is inside or out, and some of the transitions between scenes are incredible. Depth of field and focus, or the lack of it, is also used extremely well. Compounding this is excellent sound design overall, from the haunting ambient/classical soundtrack to the creaking of wood under the heavy feet of men walking on old wooden floors and the sound of the spurs on their boots. The sound design is reminiscent of Ran, as the sound of horses trotting is also very prominent.
It is an extremely immersive experience, so much so that I watched it twice within a week.
However, there are some weak links. The narration throughout the film is extremely unnecessary, as it strips away a layer of mystery that surrounds Greider, which is one of the best aspects of the film. Ruth’s crush Sam Riley is a big reason for this, he is very convincing as the strong, silent type whose actions speak louder than anything he may utter.
Another fault of the film is the use of a modern song during the one action set-piece of the movie. It ripped me out of the experience, and this is made worse by the fact that slow-motion is over-used. This part of the film is choreographed well, leading me to wonder why slow-motion is used at all. And yet again, when it comes to hand to hand combat, not only is it horribly shot, it also ends in an extremely predictable fashion, making me wish that these writers could come up with a close-quarters fight scene that doesn’t end in a horribly clinched way.
But these faults can be forgiven as the film is such a treat to watch. It is filled with symbolism, which is another reason to watch this film more than once. The camera, the crucifix, the fact that Greider, unlike the other men in the town, is always clean-shaven. What these mean to the main character and the film as a whole is for the viewer to decide, and that is a reason alone to watch this movie. Add to that the stellar acting, the incredible soundtrack, the amazing visual display, the nice twist on a very typical western storyline…. Yep, this is a film that deserves your attention.
One beer short of a sixer
And because the film looks so stunning, some stills. The first three show how well silhouettes are used…
The next three demonstrate how well focus and depth of field is used…
One of the Brenner sons posing for Greider’s camera…