×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rome Film Review: ‘Valley of Shadows’

Haunting images evoke the destabilization lurking in the heart of children on the cusp of self-awareness in Matzow Gulbrandsen's debut.

Director:
Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen
With:
Adam Ekeli, Kathrine Fagerland, John Olav Nilsen, Lennard Salamon, Jørgen Langhelle

91 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6796742/reference

A pallid boy, a dark forest and an indefinable sense of dread powerfully conjure up the primal fears of childhood in Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen’s superbly assured feature debut “Valley of Shadows.” Shot in 35mm by the director’s brother Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen using achingly beautiful images that feel as if they’re recalling some forgotten legend of Norse mythology (with a touch of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are”), the film isolates this eerily fair-skinned child in a shadowy landscape of inchoate menace, accompanied by Zbigniew Preisner’s richly realized orchestral score. Post-Toronto exposure doesn’t seem to be as widespread as it deserves, though further festival play might entice buyers willing to take a chance on a haunting sleeper.

While the imagery is influenced by a wide range of artists from Gustave Doré to Norwegian landscape painter Lars Hertervig, “Valley” is completely modern in design even as its concept remains timeless. The location is a nondescript Norwegian town on the edge of a forest (shooting was done in the southwest coastal region), and the trigger is the unexplained, violent killing of some sheep. Lasse (Lennard Salamon) tells his younger friend Aslak (Adam Ekeli) that a werewolf committed the crime; when Aslak’s dog Rapp runs away, the 6-year-old boy enters the neighboring woods to find him, all the while fearful that a monster might be lurking.

Director Matzow Gulbrandsen balances this fairytale-like plot line — informed by “Peter and the Wolf,” Goethe’s “Erl-King” and adult takes on the incipient horror of Grimm-style stories — with trauma at home: one night, policemen come to tell Aslak’s single mom Astrid (Kathrine Fagerland) that her estranged older son is acting violently. Though never on screen, Aslak’s junkie brother adds a level of concrete uneasiness that, woven together with Lasse’s werewolf story and Rapp’s disappearance, create an atmosphere suffused with tension and foreboding.

To the film’s enormous credit, “Valley” never goes as dark as it could have, refusing anything downright cruel or sadistic (barring the briefly seen slaughtered sheep). Instead, Matzow Gulbrandsen’s interests lie in evoking the nascent sense of destabilization lurking in the heart of children on the cusp of self-awareness. His absent brother’s violence, the sense of Astrid as a figure more complex than simply a mother, the disappearance of his dog all eat away at the boy’s tentative sense of security, driving him into terrors, at once palpable and abstract, lurking within a primeval forest inhabited by unknown forces.

The film’s visual design is an integral part of this netherworld between reality and imagination, from Aslak’s shadowy house, where darkly painted walls make the rooms feel out of time and place, to the looming mass of trees that dance and shudder with the wind. The moon’s glow piercing through the forest could have inspired Casper David Friedrich, while a long shot of Aslak at the edge of the blackened woods recalls nightmarish Doré engravings. Young Ekeli’s glowing blond-white hair and pale skin, in a row-boat within the blue-gray penumbra of a tree-shrouded river, calls to mind some half-remembered Arthurian legend, superbly reinforced by Preisner’s masterful orchestrations that climax with choral accompaniment.

Rome Film Review: 'Valley of Shadows'

Reviewed at Rome Film Festival, Oct. 31, 2017 (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Discovery). Original title: “Skyggenes Dal.”

Production: (Norway) An Another World Entertainment release of a Film Farms presentation of a Film Farms, Them Girls Film, Anna Kron Film production. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Producer: Alan R. Milligan. Co-producers: Stine Blichfeldt, Teréz Hollo, Lars Leegaard Marøy, Olav Mellgren. Executive producers: Alexander Hagerup, Tom Kjeseth.

Crew: Director: Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen. Screenplay: Matzow Gulbrandsen, Clement Tuffreau. Camera (color): Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen. Editor: Mariusz Kus. Music: Zbigniew Preisner.

With: Adam Ekeli, Kathrine Fagerland, John Olav Nilsen, Lennard Salamon, Jørgen Langhelle

More Film

  • China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to

    China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to Hit French Theaters (EXCLUSIVE)

    Midnight Blur Films has signed a deal with French distributor Les Acacias to release Chinese arthouse drama “Three Adventures of Brooke” in France this year, the Chinese production company told Variety on Saturday. A release date has yet to be set for the film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and stars Chinese newcomer Xu Fangyi [...]

  • Noe Debre On His Directorial Debut,

    Top French Screenwriter Noe Debre Makes Directorial Debut, ‘The Seventh Continent’

    This last half-decade, few French screenwriters have run up such an illustrious list of co-write credits as Noé Debré. Thomas Bedigain’s writing partner on Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Deephan,” Debra co-penned Bedigain’s own debut, “The Cowboys,” “Racer and the Jailbird,” by Michael Roskam, and “Le Brio,” directed by Yvan Attal. He has now [...]

  • Julien Trauman Talks Survival-Thriller Short ‘At

    Julien Trauman on Survival-Thriller Short ‘At Dawn’

    France’s Julien Trauman has never been afraid to play with genre, and in his latest short, the MyFrenchFilmFestival participant “At Dawn,” he employs aspects of psychological thriller, survival, coming-of-age and fantasy filmmaking. “At Dawn” kicks off the night before when a group of teens, one about to leave town, are imbibing heavily around a beach-side [...]

  • ‘Flowers’ Director Baptiste Petit-Gats Interview

    Baptiste Petit-Gats: ‘Editing Taught Me How to Write for Film’

    France’s Baptiste Petit-Gats is an hyphenate that keeps himself plenty busy editing, photographing, writing and directing. The bulk of his editing gigs up until now have been in documentary film work, evident in the way he shot and edited his own short film, participating in the MyFrenchFilmFestival, “Flowers.” In the film, Petit-Gats tells the heartbreaking [...]

  • Fanny Litard, Jérémy Trouilh on ‘Blue

    France’s Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh Discuss MyFFF Suburban Fable ‘Blue Dog’

    French filmmakers Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh met at university while studying political science before diverging towards separate careers. Trouilh trained in documentary filmmaking; Liatard worked on urban artistic projects in Lebanon and France. They eventually joined back up to film three shorts: “Gagarine,” a Sundance Channel Shorts Competition Jury Prize winner in 2016; “The [...]

  • MFFF: 'The Collection' Director Blanchard Readies

    'The Collection' Director Emmanuel Blanchard Readies First Feature

    Paris-born Emmanuel Blanchard studied and then taught history before becoming a documentary filmmaker responsible for films such as “Bombing War,” “Le diable de la République” and “Après la guerre.” He’s currently directing “Notre-Dame de Paris”, a 90-minute animated part-doc, part-fiction film on the building of the world-famous Paris cathedral. Competing at MyFFF, “The Collection” is [...]

  • Dragon Ball Super: Broly

    Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’

    Late in “Dragon Ball Super: Broly,” the 20th Japanese anime feature in a 35-year-old franchise that also has spawned scads of TV series, trading cards, video games, mangas, and limited-edition collectibles, a supporting character complains, “I don’t understand a single thing you’ve said the whole time.” If you’re among the heretofore uninitiated drawn to this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content