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Valhalla Rising

August 5, 2010

The first role I remember seeing Mads Mikkelsen in was as the debonair, blood-weeping, Le Chiffre in the 2006 Bond re-boot, Casino Royale. I remember thinking that this guy has “star power” and was about to kick off a great career. After seeing the wonderful Danish film After the Wedding I realized he was already a star with a great resume.

Charisma is another word for “star power”–a trait that can easily be ascribed to Mr. Mikkelsen. It can also be used to describe him in his recent roll in the film Valhalla Rising. What else can it be? As the character, One Eye, he doesn’t utter a single word throughout the film yet he carries it and us for a harrowing hour and a half.

When I wrote to a friend after seeing Valhalla Rising the other night I used words like: harrowing, eerie and strange–perceptively, she picked up on this and asked, “But did you like it?”

Did I like it. Did I like it? The question made me pause for a moment before I answered that some movies are beyond “like” and “dislike” or “hate”. Finishing with: “Some are just unforgettable experiences.” Then I began to list the movies that I’ve felt this way about in the past. 2001: A Space Odyssey had to be the first. I’ll never forget leaving the theater after seeing it–I was 18 or so–and having difficulty driving home. My consciousness had been altered.

The Deer Hunter; Max Ophul’s, The Sorrow and the Pity; and what I thought was one of the best pictures of 2007, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, came to mind. As did a film I saw almost exactly a year ago entitled: Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America.

In many ways it could almost be considered a companion piece–no, more like a twin–to Valhalla Rising. They tell nearly the same story but with different flourishes. Both are original and strange. Both deal with Norsemen who take a wrong turn and end up lost in North America. Bad wrong turn. Very bad.

Now for the differences. The big one: BUDGET. Where Valhalla Rising was considered a low budget affair coming in around 3.5 million dollars, Severed Ways was a NO budget enterprise. It was the dream child of Tony Stone, the movie’s writer, director and star. A rather crudely shot DIY film that took a number of years to film up in the far reaches of New Hampshire and Vermont. Valhalla Rising has Scotland and Wales for a backdrop. Valhalla Rising has a few but stunningly violent special effects–Severed Ways has Tony Stone defecating on screen.

Another thing they share in common is that they both linger in my mind. Not as a whole piece, or a even as a scene here or there–no, it is more a mood that lingers–a feeling. Unfortunately the other thing they share is the near impossibility of finding a theater where it’s playing. I found Severed Ways at the Angelica last summer where it played for a week, maybe two. Valhalla Rising is at the IFC through August 7th–possibly longer–but don’t count on it. Valhalla Rising should be seen on the big screen. Filmed in Scotland and Wales you’ll want to experience the brutally blunt cold and the stunning rugged countryside. Take the time to track it down, trust me, the experience will be well worth the effort.

One final note. Somewhere I read that Mikkelsen and Nicolas Winding Ref, Valhalla Rising’s director, are old friends and collaborators. When Ref decided to make Valhalla Rising he had only one person in mind for the role of One Eye–Mikkelsen. After doing roles that were considerably less gritty than the one’s he’d played for Ref earlier in his career, Ref lured him into Valhalla Rising by asking him if he was ready to do some “real” work again. I hope in the future Mr. Ref will continue to throw such challenges Mr. Mikkelsen’s way.

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