Friday, September 17, 2010

Valhalla Rising

Nicolas Winding Refn's "Valhalla Rising" is better than his "Bronson"; however, considering that that film was abysmally awful, that's not much of a compliment. It was panned by Lou Lemenick as "visually striking, but portentous and pretentious." I'd have to completely agree. I also have to agree with IMDb message board posters, many of whom called this film "boring." This film is as much the slog as the voyage to the "Holy Land" characters take. These are crusaders who speak in (as Lemenick said) "portentous" dialogue written by someone (as my friend said) who has only a rudimentary knowledge of religion. That "someone" in question would be Refn and Roy Jacobson. Refn (to my friend's knowledge) apparently said in a Film Comment article that he knew very little about theism. Oh, and look: one of his next projects is "Only God Forgives"! Does that mean that we have another naïve film to look forward to? I think so.

The premise of this film convinced me that Refn would make a good follow-up to his disaster. It starts in the times of the Crusades as we take up with One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen), who is let out of his cage only to travel and, in at times repulsively violent scenes intended to represent masculinity verging on the animal, to fight other people to the death in fights with bets placed on them. He eventually, while traveling, breaks out of his line with the help of a razor-sharp blade and goes off with a boy named Are (Maarten Stevenson). He then meets up with the crusaders, who are off to Jerusalem, as usual. But, of course, the journey seems more like the one to Hell.

I may be able to understand it on some level, but the film's second half (or, more correctly, final half of chapters) is extremely underwhelming and really kind of meaningless. To be sure, we have some very nicely colored and composed cinematography by Morten Søborg, who is Refn's regular photographer (though he was spared the tragedy of working on "Bronson"). This can get repetitive, yes, but it's a definite saving grace. Add to that that I admired a couple of the selections on the score by Peter Kyed and PeterPeter. Also, a later line of dialogue by Are: "If you think he's wrong, why are you following him?" This refers to some random guy who's been trailing behind One-Eye and Are (who interprets One-Eye's facial gestures and mind-waves and translates them into speech, as One-Eye doesn't talk). This guy has been informed that he will die soon and he is against it. Are spouts that line of dialogue, which, if I really wanted to be harsh, I could construe as another instance of Refn's low theological knowledge. OK, now that I think of it, maybe I will be. It is an interesting line, but it is on second thought a bit obvious.

There is one indecipherable passage so vapid it borders on (as people such as my friend have said) "music-video." It involves a stacking stones for no particular reason and isolated instances of people writhing and being attacked and/or raped in mud. It was lost on me, like much of this film apparently was. This film feels to me like Malick's "The New World" gone incredibly awry.

There are avid Refn fans, and I open myself up to possibly enjoying other films by him. From what I've seen, though, I'm one of his detractors. C-

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