In a small village in Papua New Guinea, the wife of the French consul in Melbourne (Monique Giraudy) meets an English adventurer (Michael Gothard), who seduces her when he asks her to come up and look at his exotic feather collection some time. Enamoured by the free-love lifestyle he shares with his companions, she agrees to accompany them on a journey to the remote and inaccessible interior of the island, where large areas are still blank on the map.
They long to reach one area in particular, simply designated ‘obscured by clouds’, and they set off for this region in search of a mystical valley that purports to be a real-life paradise. It’s a journey of self-discovery and loss of sexual inhibition for Giraudy, but something of a chore for the audience. Along the way they encounter the indigenous tribes, choosing to soak in their rituals and partake of the local hooch.
These scenes provide plenty of ethnic flavour but little else, and the result is an extended travelogue that’s lacking in context. It’s possible to look at the film as a load of hippy nonsense, but at the same time it’s a little too dry and stilted to be truly hypnotic. With its semi-documentary aesthetic, director Barbet Schroeder isn’t really going for overly trippy, despite the visual and narcotic trappings.
Indeed, one of the main selling points of The Valley is its Pink Floyd score, which became the band’s 1972 album, Obscured By Clouds. But the music remains mostly subdued or entirely absent, even in the frequent dialogue-free stretches where a bit of Floyd would have been perfect either to accompany the scene, or simply to provide the audience with some sensory stimulation to relieve the tedium.
As well as trailers for The Valley, Schroeder’s earlier film More (which also includes a Pink Floyd soundtrack) and his subsequent Depardieu starrer, Maîtresse, there’s also the option to watch the film with two different conclusions – although the only difference between the original and a restored ending is the timing of an optical effect. It’s left to three short films made by Schroeder at the same time as he was shooting the movie to make up the bulk of the extras.
Running around 25 minutes in total, they each give a little more insight into the lives and customs of the tribes, and are indicative of the film as a whole – visually ravishing, but thematically inert.
Sort of like a Doug McClure lost world adventure without the dinosaurs or the fun, The Valley is handsome but empty.