La Vallée (France, 1972):
(The Valley Obscured by Clouds)

Half druggy road trip, half ethnographic study, Barbet Schroeder's eco-mystical adventure, sandwiched between producing gigs for Eric Rohmer, 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. Just as the junkie despair of his More debut avoided head hysteria, here even the wackiest of scenes (a shamanic ritual with scary masks, Ogier getting to know Mr. Tree and Mr. Snake while tripping on some "liquor of Dionysus") gets filtered through the saturnine stance of Schroeder's medium-shots. In fact, 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. The movie would have benefited from a more developed sense of danger (to say nothing of a far less housebroken wilderness), yet 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. With Monique Giraudy, Valérie Legrange, and Jérôme Beauvarlet.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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