An atmospheric tale of tangled passions set at a hillside school in rural Vietnam, “The Deserted Valley” reps a plum buy for ethnic-centered webs, plus a solid title for Asiaphile festivals. Technically fine production, realistically set in the soggy, mist-shrouded hills of the northwest, is too gentle (like most Vietnamese movies) to make a mark theatrically, but is well played by all its leads.
Tanh (Nguyen Hau) is a kindly janitor at a simple school for one of the country’s ethnic minorities. He’s soft on one of the women teachers, Giao (Hong Anh), to the chagrin of the other, sulky Minh (Tuyet Hanh). One of the pupils, young peasant woman Mi (Thu Trang), falls for Hung (Trung Dung), bathing in a nearby pool; devastated when she finds Giao is his lover, Mi tries to blacken the teacher’s name. Pic is upfront about locals’ take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward education, as well as the wavering conviction of the school’s staff — Tanh, who likes a drink or two, often thinks of packing it in. Melodrama is tightly held in check, replaced by a simmering sexuality that occasionally springs free in surprisingly explicit sequences.