Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Viviane is the upper-class wife of a French diplomat who is in New Guinea looking for some rare bird-of-paradise feathers to sell at Paris boutiques. She's obnoxious, self-centered, and used to getting her own way. At a trading post, she runs into Olivier, a relatively handsome thin blond hippie-type who is traveling with a group of other relatively good-looking hippie-types in search of an unexplored valley in the middle of the island (the most recent map of the area is simply blank with the words "obscured by clouds"), hoping to find a literal paradise; they believe that other explorers who have gone in but never returned have stayed by choice because it's such a wonderful place. She decides to go with them hoping to find more feathers. Her inhibitions soon begin dropping away, first when she sleeps with Olivier, and later when she is influenced by the attitudes of her companions, especially Gaetan, the leader, who is involved with the other two women in the group (there's also a young boy who might be Gaetan's son, though his character is almost completely ignored). More sexual escapades and drug experiences follow until the group meets up with a tribe who live near the valley. They are welcomed as guests at a huge festival at which some of the group "go native," applying face paint and realizing that the trappings of civilization as they knew it have fallen away. Viviane tells Olivier that they have found "the truth," but he tells her that the opposite has happened, that they remain merely tourists; as they try to tear down social restrictions, the tribe understands the importance of strict rules and taboos. Even the natives won't head over the hills to the valley, so our group continues, despite having little food or water. Eventually, in the final shot, they do reach the "heart of darkness," so to speak, or maybe "heart of lightness," depending on your viewpoint.

This little-seen film from director Barbet Schroeder has a reputation as a hippie-dippie psychedelic flick, largely because the soundtrack was by Pink Floyd, but this is anything but trippy. There are no light-show visual effects, and the music is limited to instrumental backgrounds at the beginning and ending (and a handful of Floyd songs which play over the radio in a couple of scenes); frankly I think the movie would have benefited from more use of Pink Floyd's ominous theme. If the movie is like anything, it's like Apocalypse Now (hence my "heart of darkness" reference), and like that movie, the cinematography and the settings are its main strengths--the film was shot on location, and though I know nothing about the circumstances of the filming, it feels like it was an arduous experience, so much so that I was occasionally taken out of the film by thinking about how they got certain shots. The most startling moment involves the natives beating to death some pigs who will be served as food at the festival. The killings are obviously real and for that reason, you stop thinking about the film and start thinking about the filming. The movie lags at times, partly due to thoroughly average acting and writing. It’s essentially a three-actor movie, with Bulle Ogier as Vivien, Michael Gothard as Olivier, and Jean-Pierre Kalfon as Gaetan, and only Kalfon really makes an impression. Best quote, even if it is a tad on the pretentious side: "Paradise is a place with many exits but no entrance," meaning I assume that you can be born into a paradise, but you can never really find one. [DVD]

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