European feudalism is about to get a taste of revenge, served up in vintage
American Western style. A stranger has come to a remote town high in the Austrian
Alps and that means what it always does. Someone will pay for something in
Andreas Prochaska’s Dark Valley (trailer here), which releases
on DVD today from Film Movement.
is an American, but he learned fluent German from his mother. He has come to
the inhospitable town with his daguerreotype camera and an equalizer. He would
have the locals believe he is an early forerunner of Ansel Adams, there to
photograph nature, but they are not buying it. Nonetheless, he finds lodging
with the reluctant Luzi and her widowed mother for the winter (which will be
long, everyone ominously assures him). The entitled Brenner sons quickly key in
on Greider as a target for their bullying. However, he also seems to take an
interest in them, asking questions like “if someone were to start killing old
Brenner’s sons, how busy would they be?”
a couple of Brenners turn up dead and Greider is not exactly disavowing
responsibility. It turns out Brenner and his sons enforce the old feudal custom
granting them wedding night privileges with all brides in the valley. That is
why Luzi’s impending nuptials with the earnest but mild-mannered Lukas are more
of a source of angst than joy, despite their mutual love for each other.
Greider is familiar with the tradition and he has had enough of it.
evidently you have to go to Austria to get a credible western these days. In
fact, Austria selected Valley as its
official foreign language Oscar submission, but it did not make the shortlist
cut. Prochaska definitely understands the genre conventions, even though he
realizes them in an austerely chilly, Teutonic style. Frankly, he executes a
darned good shoot-out down the stretch, while capitalizing on the awesome
Alpine backdrops (shot with fittingly dark majesty by cinematographer Thomas
Riley hardly looks like a killing machine, but his pale clamminess works well
in context, nonetheless. Evidently, the crew referred to him as “Pale Greider”
during shooting, in reference to the Eastwood film, which is not wholly
inappropriate. Valley has a similar vibe
to Eastwood’s later, slightly revisionist westerns. Regardless, the Brenners
still need killing and when Greider obliges it is pretty satisfying.
though she is stuck with some plodding narration, Paula Beer is relatively
forceful and dynamic as Luizi. Let’s be honest, this is not exactly the sort of
premise that is conducive to strong female characters, but she does rather well
given the circumstances. On the other hand, Tobias Moretti really cuts loose
with the moustache-twisting villainy as the elder Brenner Brother, Hans.
Frankly, the Austrian Alps make a nice change of
pace from Monument Valley. It is also good to see some life left in the western
genre. Anyone who enjoys a rugged revenge tale should appreciate Prochaska’s
Strudel Western. Highly recommended, Dark
Valley launches on DVD today, from Film Movement.
Labels: Austrian Cinema, DVD, Western Cinema