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La vallée: reviews

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Jul. 6th, 1972 | 09:00 pm

Alexander Stuart in Films and Filming 1975

The Valley Obscured by Clouds reaches us more than two years after it was made (and it was anachronistic then). It is a dream about a dream, and sensually it is an exquisitely beautiful dream …

The Valley follows the story of a search – a search for a valley that may or may not exist; a search for a lost innocence that may or may not be recaptured; a search for beauty and tranquillity in a union with nature …

The dream of returning to nature is, of course, an old one, regarded by some as an ideal and by others as supreme escapism. The very possibility of making such a return is questioned by one of the group, Olivier, as he sits with Viviane watching a ceremony of Papuan rites. He says that they are just tourists there, that they will never really become one with the aborigines and that, in any case, the aboriginal life style is no more ideal than their own …

We have heard arguments both defending and attacking the dream of returning to nature in dialogue that – in the subtitles at least – frequently seems pretentious, but which is rescued by the excellent performances of the cast, especially Bulle Ogier and Michael Gothard. So we are left to make up our own minds. Do we want to find the valley? More important still … do we want to search for it?

Full review:
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John Williams in Films Illustrated

... Two men and two women … about to explore the mountainous wastes of Papua New Guinea in search of a hidden valley … are joined by the wife of the French Consul in Melbourne who for no reason than it suits the film’s pretensions, is after the tail feathers of the rare, lesser bird of paradise.

… They discover lots of things about each other on the way … they discover that they are really not very nice people at all, and that the local tribes (whose only contact with civilisation is the aeroplane and the missionary) have much more to offer.

It’s really a load of pretentious nonsense, a sort of hymn to Eastern-inspired hippy ideology about loss of innocence and the search for the final truth to end all doubts.

… Apart from its looks, "The Valley" can justly boast a very honest and sympathetic performance by Michael Gothard as the disciple who tries to persuade Mme Ogier that there’s more to living than scavenging for bird feathers. His is the act which matches the aboriginal humanity of the tribes. Mr Schroeder should be grateful to both.

Full review:
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Peter Fuller in Movie Talk

Thanks to cheap air travel, an ever-shrinking world, and our spirit for adventure, many of us have the opportunity to escape our humdrum lives – either briefly or for extended periods. But, on seeing this allegorical tale about a woman’s journey of self-discovery, I got a bit of a wake-up call. The Valley may have been made 40 years ago, but its themes still resonate.

In director Barbet Schroeder’s second feature … French actress Bulle Ogier … plays Viviane, the bored wife of an Australian-based French consul, who fills her empty life buying native arts for a chic Parisian boutique.

… while searching for the rare and beautiful features of the Kumul bird in Papua New Guinea, Vivian meets adventurer Olivier (Michael Gothard, best known for his roles in The Devils and Scream and Scream Again) just as he is about to depart for a uncharted hidden valley with some travellers who believe the locale is an undiscovered paradise …

The Valley is a deeply contemplative film that fuses fiction and documentary with improvised dialogue. Made with just a crew of just 13, this road movie by land rover, horseback and on foot, set to Pink Floyd’s shimmering psychedelia, is very much of the period – and one in which the director gets to unleash his thoughts about ‘finding one-self’ in a post-hippy era.

This comes to the fore in Olivier’s philosophical speech to Viviane, during the Mapuga’s colourful and elaborate Day of the Dead celebrations. Viviane believes she has found truth by living amongst the tribe, but Olivier rejects this, saying ‘we are just tourists’. And he’s right, because we, in the western world, are free to escape our lives, while people like the Mapuga live in terror and respect for the taboos that make up their society.

Despite Olivier’s wake-up call, the couple climb higher into the mountains with their group, until they become ‘obscured by clouds’. While The Valley ends ambiguously – and quite abruptly, the true beauty of the film is not whether the group finds paradise or not, but the journey itself.

Full review

Images Movie Journal

Vivian (Bulle Ogier) seems an unlikely candidate for a spiritual explorer on a quest for Paradise. She's a quintessential early 1970's material girl, who defines her sense of self by the things she has acquired: a diplomat husband, pressing social obligations, access to government chateaus, a dog named Nouki, and a Parisian boutique.

Her desire to acquire feathers from the Kamul, the Bird of Paradise, launches her on the journey. To Vivian the feathers represent another link in the chain of rare, beautiful things which she must possess. The desire to possess the feathers verges on the sexual, as underscored by the scene where Olivier (Michael Gothard) shows her a Kamul feather in a communal tent shared by his fellow travelers.

Vivian lovingly caresses the feather, admiring its rich colors, while the sounds of Gaetan (Jean-Pierre Kalfun) and Monique (Monique Giraudy) making love in a nearby bunk rise in intensity.

From that point on, she commits every available resource — money, time, her body — to gaining more feathers. Nevertheless, despite the intensity of her desire, the feather remains solely an object that she must possess. A running joke through the first half of the film has her constantly prodding Olivier for the name of the bird the feathers come from while undergoing negotiations to buy them.

As often happens in fairy tales and myths, the initial object of attention turns out to be the impetus behind a much grander quest. Buying her way as a passenger and partly acting as Olivier's lover, Vivian joins the expedition in Papua New Guinea led by Gaetan, a hippie shaman who has financed and organized the trip. Their plan is to discover the hidden valley …

Towards the end of the film, when Olivier cynically derides the validity of the group's experiences among the tribe that dwells at the foot of the mountains, Vivian energetically defends herself, and by extension the group's experience. There is no question in her mind that her time spent celebrating with the tribe, preparing for the arduous journey into the mountains, brims with authentic, hard-won experience. She has paid a price — sacrificing her old life in order to gain personal transformation, transmuting her lust for material things into a desire for real experiences.

La Vallée has been derided in some circles as hippie tripe. That's unfortunate …. The tale itself … is old as myth and very necessary for these times. Schroeder and company skillfully compose a late 20th Century fairy tale, which dares to suggest that through desire, persistence, preparation, and a willingness to engage the life force on its own terms, we just might be able to find our way to Paradise.

Full review

Anet Maslin in The New York Times: May 17, 1981

The beginning of Barbet Schroeder's ''The Valley Obscured by Clouds'' finds Viviane (Bulle Ogier) wearing a trim little dress and high heels, traipsing elegantly through the jungle as only a chic Frenchwoman can. The bored wife of a diplomat stationed in Melbourne, she is in New Guinea to buy feathers, which she sells to a Paris boutique.

In the trading post where she is first seen, she encounters the blond, bare-chested Olivier (Michael Gothard), who claims to know where some fine feathers can be found. He seems to be making a few other claims too, but it is only the feathers that he mentions. Anyhow, Viviane soon embarks, with Olivier and several very solemn, self-important hippies who are his friends, on a journey into the wilderness. They are in search, respectively, of feathers and truth …

Viviane's feathery-headedness may be something Mr. Schroeder intended. After she witnesses the spectacular Mapuga festivities that mark the film's climax, she cries ''Olivier, isn't it wonderful? We've become so close to them we're practically one of them - we've found truth, you know!''

Olivier quickly shoots a hole in this theory, but only a few minutes later the film is over, with Viviane supposedly on the brink of enlightenment. Has she really found wisdom through the Mapugas? Or is she merely fascinated by their makeup and jewelry ideas?

Mr. Schroeder is … neither an observer of nor a participant in his material, and the middle ground he inhabits remains ill defined. His film is by no means uninteresting, but it lacks the clear vision that might have turned it into a genuine act of exploration.

Full review

Glenn Erickson on DVD Savant

At last, a vintage 'trippy' film with some guts. The entire 'head trip' subgenre of late 60s / early 70s has a real credibility problem. Most of the films that seriously invited us to consider dropping out into a more mellow plane of existence now appear exploitative, naive or laughable …

While Hip Hollywood was whipping up fake enlightenment on Malibu Beach, a few adventurous individualists sought something special by heading for the hills. … Schroeder and his hardy bunch took off for … a literal end of the Earth. The movie they brought back is as trippy as anyone's, but for credibility and class I haven't seen better.


Bored French fashion buyer Viviane (Bulle Ogier) meets an odd lot of hippie adventurers while trying to acquire illegal bird feathers in a New Guinea trading village. Olivier (Michael Gothard) is the mechanic and guide for Gaetan (Jean-Pierre Kalfon)'s group of free-thinking seekers; Viviane hitches a ride with them for a chance to score the plumage and is seduced into their little utopian quest - to penetrate into unmapped and unknown interior valleys, from where previous explorers have never returned.

Shedding her silks and Gucci bags, Viviane becomes one of the commune spiritually and sexually as they abandon all traces of civilization. At the final jumping-off point of their journey they're welcomed by a primitive tribe who even themselves won't venture into the region that legend says may be Paradise on Earth.

… What we get is … an entirely believable trek into the forested highlands, where we constantly wonder how Schroeder and legendary cameraman Néstor Almendros were able to keep their cameras running and lenses clean, let alone avoid the defections of crew and actors.

The simple story has cosmopolitan materialist Viviane slowly abandon all worldly concerns - her business, her husband, her life - and instead throw her lot in with a quintet of idealistic types who can only parenthetically be described as 'hippies.' Burly Gaetan has attracted two female consorts (and a child) to his quest but doesn't come off as a macho type. The closest the film comes to a standard counterculture scene is when Hermine explains to Viviane the difference between possessive sex and the free love situation that the little group has found.

A later intimate exchange (intriguingly on the end of a mastershot involving hundreds of natives) hits a more unique note. Viviane, who is ecstatic about participating in the native rituals, is reminded by the disillusioned Olivier that the primitive culture she's celebrating is far less free than her own. The tribesmen may be open and uncomplicated but they live in fear, are obsessed with taboos and their customs are especially harsh on women.

The group meets only a handful of whites, mostly rough Australians with no time to waste on ethereal cereal types. Viviane keeps the expedition on track by giving a fortune in cash to a pair of highland pirates who initially refuse to sell their horses: "What horses? I don't see any fucking horses."

The landscape they cover is clearly remote and wild and every time they snuggle into the roots of a tree or play with a wild animal, we think how far up a creek they'd be if somebody got snake-bit.

The sex is basic, brief and unadorned with trippy effects of any kind. Viviane considers herself sufficiently free to bed down with the attractive Olivier. Later on she joins the fold by coupling with Gaetan at the base of really bizarre tree with huge hanging roots that ooze a drinkable elixir-like liquid. The plant is obviously real, but comes off like some kind of sexually-hyped phallic Triffid. …The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) … has the trappings of fantasy, but everything in it is unhyped reality.

Amid the sex, the wigging out on local drugs and the somnambulent, creeping Pink Floyd music … is a balancing practicality. Gaetan and Co's quest for the Forbidden valley of Paradise remains an idealistic rumor, almost an excuse to turn one's back on reality. But reality consistently gets the upper hand. Tripping out with a green tree snake, Viviane receives exactly what she asks for, a nasty bite. Such little reminders are needed to quell the idea that anyone with a land rover can leap into remote boondock areas and come back in one piece. …

The interaction with the primitive tribe is pretty amazing. These are 'natural' people with little inhibition or self-consciousness by Western standards, and Schroeder gets great intimate footage of their interaction with the visitors, all of it remarkable in its lucidity.

Part of the interest in following The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) to its end is wondering how an Easy-Rider quest like this one is going to be resolved. The subject of this particular show is really the journey, but the mysterious ending turns out to be eerily satisfying.

The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) was made by a stellar roster of talent. Bulle Ogier is a familiar face from many a weird artistic effort - Le Salamandre, Sérail, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Michael Gothard has a short but impressive filmograpy (The Three Musketeers, Scream and Scream Again, The Devils, Lifeforce), and his name also shows up in a mysterious & legendary art film from 1967 called Herostratus ... Jean-Pierre Kalfon (Birds in Peru, The Dogs of War) and Valérie Legrange (Satyricon) both played radicals in Jean-Luc Godard's Week End.

Full review

Fernando F. Croce on Cinepassion

Half druggy road trip, half ethnographic study, Barbet Schroeder's eco-mystical adventure … traces a cultural movement's trek back to the Garden. Bulle Ogier is a French consul's wife, stranded in a New Guinea isle, looking for artifacts for her Paris boutique before hooking up with a gang of hippified travelers (led by Jean-Pierre Kalfon) on their way to find the off-limits valley, whose heavy mists have kept it a blank spot in maps -- "Paradise."

Ogier decides to tag along with the expedition, her eyes at first set on rare plumage, then increasingly on discarding civilization and finding her own Eden. Shot by Néstor Almendros and scored to Pink Floyd's acid oblivion, the journey proceeds by jeep, horse and foot, yet the mood remains tranquil throughout, the setting's primitivism shorn of Nicholas Roeg obscurantism.

… the insistent distance of the camera, its refusal to just join the characters' visionary naïveté, betrays a man-of-the-world's skepticism that's finally voiced by rangy explorer Michael Gothard, whose doubts about the alleged freedom of the friendly Mapuga aborigines cold-showers Ogier's "tourist" enthusiasm for the National Geographic face-painting of the festivities. …

Schroeder's pragmatically adventurous eye stays attuned to the ironies of white Europeans attempting to lose themselves in an imagined (or is it?) primeval El Dorado.

Full review

Michael Wilmington

The Valley was shot in 1971. It had its European release in the early Seventies (the soundtrack album, composed and performed by Pink Floyd, was a huge British hit in 1972), and so this relatively delayed American release - some eight years late - makes the film seem unduly anachronistic: a naïve relic of the mystique of high hippiedom, somehow washed ashore on the strobe-lit, mercantile, Bloomingdales' beaches of 1979.

There is a wide-eyed quality, a "naïveté" about its imagery and philosophy. But it's a conscious naïveté: an attempt to re-instigate a sense of wonder and adventure. Past pioneering, past the virgin land, deep in a primeval wilderness, represents the last mysterious border that can be crossed - this side of death.

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Richard T. Jameson on Parallax View, originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976

… The bored wife of a New Guinea–based diplomat leaves the capital long enough to scout up some exotic feathers for the world of haute couture, learns of a likelier source farther from civilization, and ends by disappearing into a white area on the map in quest of Paradise …

The first peopled shot to come onscreen—the bored wife (Bulle Ogier) and a half-loony storekeeper dickering over prices in a timbered outpost of progress—is too vast on the wide screen to justify its framing as dramatic event, but in its very ungainliness seems to promise that there are possibilities to be sensed out and tried.

Schroeder’s style continues in this vein: sequences fade in, fade out, narrative momentum almost nonexistent save for the brooding urgency of the viewer’s curiosity … as long as a Shangri-La story waits to be told.

[Olivier] (Michael Gothard) enters the store bearing the most exquisite plumes Ogier has ever seen; within a few sultry spaced-out moments she has run a spear through his foot, taken him to the hospital for first aid, returned him to his base camp, seen him absentmindedly drop a tarp between her and a pair of as-yet-unidentified nude lovers lying on a cot in the tent where they keep the feathers, and been perfunctorily seduced while her eyes and fingers linger on those rare plumes from far in the backcountry.

The ensuing voyage into unexplored geography of jungle and psyche very quickly recalls the doper’s odyssey of Schroeder’s earlier film More (also scored by Pink Floyd): the dress- and bathing-suit–wearing wife is soon comfortable with the minimal clothing style of her fellow travellers, a little sipping of hallucinogens by the light of the moon has her caressing the local serpents she used to fear, and she eventually gets used to the casual patterns of sexual partnering practiced by the roving commune …

[Olivier] keeps a considerable distance between himself and his comrades’ laid-back conviction that all will turn out copacetic, going so far as to point out to Ogier that, no matter how many feathers they collect and how many native ceremonies they participate in and how many Western hangups they shed, they remain tourists—tourists destined to go up the garden path and find that the garden is nowhere …

Full review

Further reviews:

Digitally Obsessed
Digital Bits – the Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

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