Tuesday, 13 October 2009

(Yet another) TIFF Dispatch: Valhalla Rising

"These aren't pacifist vikings."

And with that intro began my highly anticipated trip through Valhalla Rising, the latest from Nicolas Winding Refn (the latest from Danish wunderkind behind The Pusher trilogy) and starring Mads Mikkelsen, also known as Le Chiffre from Casino Royale.

The story is simple. Essentially it's an exploration of the nascent culture clash between Pagan and Christian Danes. I'm not really up on my Danish history, but if Valhalla Rising has any ring of historical truth to it, there was something rotten in the state of Denmark centuries before Hamlet's uncle slipped into mommy's sheets.

Centuries before designer teak furniture.

Yes, even centuries before LEGO.

In Valhalla, Mikkelsen plays One-Eye, a man so dangerous he's kept chained to the rocks by his own tribe, let out only to fight intruders and dispatch of them in the most brutal fashion possible. And oh, fight he does. We hear the wet crunch of every bone as it cracks beneath One-Eye's club. His only human contact is from a small boy who feeds him some filthy-looking sludge between the bars of his cage. Once One-Eye earns his freedom (the details of how escape me now), he and the boy set forth to return to his homeland.

It's here that he encounters a group of Christian vikings, intent on taking their crusade to the holy land but not terribly skilled in navigation. Somehow (again, the details escape me) their boat ends up somewhere that looks like North America, where against their better judgement they must rely on One-Eye and his youthful companion to either find Jerusalem, build a new Jerusalem, or get back into the boat and start again.

Things don't really go well.

Valhalla Rising has lots to recomend it - the stark Scottish scenery makes what I can only guess is a great stand-in for Denmark some time during the Dark Ages - some scenes will chill you straight to the bones. Mikkelsen is a brooding, brutish presence whose silence (he has not a single word, let alone line, in the film) makes him doubly threatening. And hey - who can argue with Vikings? I did, however, find the pacing as tedious as the translatlantic boat ride and after a while found myself not caring if any of them really made it back home.

Need other opinions? Here's The AV Club's take and here's the TIFF page

NEXT UP: The Ape

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