Berlinale: An Austrian Western in the depths of The Dark Valley
- The new film by Andreas Prochaska is a Western set in the Austrian mountains
Versatile Austrian writer-director Andreas Prochaska, best known for his genre film and TV work such as thriller-horror Dead in 3 Days [+see also:
film profile] and its sequel, presented his new film The Dark Valley [+see also:
film profile] at the Berlinale.
The director is again toying with genre in this Western set in the mountains of Tyrol in the late 19th century. An isolated and closely-knit community living under harsh conditions gets a surprise visitor, a stranger called Greidel (tight-lipped, intense Sam Riley). Greidel tells village chief and patriarch Brenner (veteran Hans-Michael Rehberg) that he has spent some years in America and wants to stay in the village for the winter to take photographs. After some sharp and mistrustful looks and implicit warnings, he ends up in the house shared by an attractive and proud girl, Luzi (Paula Beer), and her mother.
Old Brenner rules the place with his six sons, and the villagers are both afraid of him and thankful for "taking care of them", as Luzi, who is set to marry young Lukas (Thomas Schubert, from Breathing [+see also:
film profile]), puts it. When the snow starts falling, the first mysterious death of one of Brenner's sons occurs, in an impressive scene that involves a dangerous method of transporting timber downhill. When another Brenner is killed and Greidel gives a confession to the local priest, we learn the real reasons why the community is being held together so tightly.
The film's strongest features are its setting and cinematography, besides the illustrious fact that it's an Austrian Western. The village in the rocky mountains is barren and unwelcoming, and the snow and wind show us exactly why the men's faces are so weathered and wrinkled. These are tough people living in tough conditions, and Riley provides a good counterpoint with his clean, youthful visage. The dark atmosphere is complemented by some fairly effective gory deaths, but the film frequently goes over the top in its seriousness and intensity.
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