Review: Valley of the Gods (2019)

Directed by: Lech Majewski | 126 minutes | adventure, drama | Actors: Josh Hartnett, John Malkovich, Bérénice Marlohe, Keir Dullea, Joseph Runningfox, Steven Skyler, John A. Lorenz, Owee Rae, Saginaw Grant, John Rhys-Davies, Jaime Ray Newman

Lech Majewski is already not known as a maker of accessible films, but with “Valley of the Gods” he adds a number of extra steps. The striking thing is that with the casting he seems to have made a bow to a wider audience: John Malkovich, Josh Hartnett, Bérénice Marlohe (‘Skyfall’) and Keir Dullea (‘2001: A Space Odyssey’) are well-known names who undoubtedly will draw attention to this unconventional film. A warning is in order: “Valley of the Gods” is an orgy of visual and auditory beauty, a succession of sumptuous scenes that you will remember for days. But anyone expecting a rounded narrative or some handles for what the Polish filmmaker actually wants to say will be disappointed.

“Valley of the Gods” loosely connects three stories; three people or groups who already have some connection with each other before the film starts. Josh Hartnett plays John, a copywriter in an unhappy marriage. He works for Tauros, a company that wants to mine uranium ore in the area where the Navajo Indians live. The owner of Tauros is Wes Tauros (John Malkovich), the richest man in the world, who lives in a castle that really looks like no one could afford it. After a personal tragedy, Wes hires John to write his biography. In the meantime, we also follow the community of the Navajo Indians.

Fantasy, dreams and surrealism go hand in hand in this crazy mix of contradictions; poverty versus wealth, fight versus flight. The search for love and overcoming fears are also themes that touches Majewski. In the one scene with John Rhys-Davis (“The Lord of the Rings”), John is advised to confront his fears by doing what is absurd. Walking backwards on the street blindfolded seems the most normal thing he does.

Majewski divides his story into 10 chapters, each with a striking title. The fact that the chapter titles are so appropriate, while still providing the film with a certain structure, may have been the most common choice. Majewski throws the viewer from one surprise to the other; there is no person on earth who can predict the course of this film. But what is pleasure for one will be extremely frustrating for the other: to go along in this maze of enigmatic, fantastic, often contextless, actions and rituals. “Valley of the Gods” will no doubt divide the audience; either you know how to appreciate the daring, idiosyncratic work, or you think it’s a waste of time. Understandable. For those who still need a little push: think of the work of David Lynch, Andrej Tarkovski, Terrence Malick and Richard Kelly. One thing is certain: you will no longer get these images from your retina. More of this, please!

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