by Del Harvey
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Valhalla Rising is an unusual film, full of beautiful scenery and breathtaking cinematography, it also features the least amount of dialogue you’ll hear in a movie this year and perhaps the most gore. The film starts in the desolate, windblown wild of Scotland, circa 1000 AD, when it was just man and nature, and not much to separate us from the beasts.
The film is by Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn, and it is a monster. Valhalla Rising’s star is the villain from Daniel Craig’s first Bond film, Mad Mikkelsen. Here he portrays the silent warrior One Eye, possessing supernatural strength. The film is segmented into six parts, and in Part 1, aptly titled, “Wrath,” One Eye breaks free from his bonds and murders his clan captors. He escapes, aided by the young captive boy whose sole job was to bring One Eye his food.
Free, they encounter a group of Christian crusaders and joins them on their journey to the Holy Land. The group sets sail in a longboat but they lose their way in a mist which lasts for many days and end up on unknown shores. Without food or water, and preyed on by the unseen locals, they search desperately for a way home. The Christian leader falls prey to madness and One Eye attempts to lead the remaining crew out of the wilderness.
Like so many epic tales of the Norse and of the Crusades, Valhalla Rising is a tragedy. The cinematography is grand and beautiful, and some of the best you’ll likely see this year. The actors are mostly unknowns with the exception of Mikkelsen and British actor Gary Lewis. But that does not matter; everyone here does an excellent job.
Refn is perhaps best known for his “Pusher” trilogy, which was an amazingly choreographed series shot in the style of cinema verite. More recently he made the highly acclaimed Bronson. Here he quite capably combines myth and history into a compelling and enthralling film pierced by the sounds of battle and endless open country full of wild beauty and eerie silences.
Valhalla Rising is an unusual and thought-provoking work, but be prepared for the brutal gore. The film -an official selection at Venice and Toronto last year and a featured selection at the upcoming BAM Cinemafest - will premiere in theaters and on VOD under the IFC Midnight label beginning in July.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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