• 1996’s Pusher marked the debut film for both auteur Nicolas Winding Refn and actor Mads Mikkelsen. 2009’s Valhalla Rising is their fourth (and second archiveable) collaboration together.
  • Valhalla Rising is shot in a foreboding looking Scotland, Refn using digital (still fairly early on for a digital film this gorgeous) and breaking the film up into chapters (i.e. Part I: Wrath, Part II: The Silent Warrior, Part VI: The Sacrifice).

the visuals certainly match the content- dread

establishing shots and long shots- the setting is as important as any character in the film

symmetry in the frame’s constitution- and the full use of the various depths of field

Refn is almost always interested exploring masculine themes. His mise-en-scene here utilizes the best of the mountain and valley location- but it also includes fog, mud, blood, and some striking Christian and Pagan iconography.

  • Mads plays One Eye- a slave forced to fight before he (and a boy) breaks free and joins a group of Christians heading for the Crusades.
  • At the 8-minute mark Refn soaks his surrealism scenes in splashes of red—these will serve as an important part of the formal construction of the film.
  • This is a Viking Western film in many ways—Refn employs the holster shot- but instead of a gun the character is toting an axe.

a great formal work…

…recurring shot choice with a close up for a character in the foreground off-center of the frame…

… the almost paranormal atmosphere/setting in the background

  • Very ethereal and mystic. Like Malick there are not many prolonged dialogue sequences (and Mads does not have a line at all- and all told the film only has about 100-150 lines of dialogue total)- fragments of conversation are captured in passing as Refn creates a collage of establishing shots and cutaways to symbols and nature. Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God feels like a fitting companion film even before the men on the boat are attacked by arrows from the shore. The unearthly musical score adds to the atmosphere, Refn uses dissolve edits often, and  the composition work is as strong as it has ever been in his career.

an inspired use of color throughout

Valhalla Rising is a major artist breakthrough for Refn – coming in his seventh (7th) film

  • Ruggedly macho, sparse dialogue, long pauses, majestic visuals- this is really well done from Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out: “It feels like a Black Sabbath song come to visual life.” https://www.timeout.com/newyork
  • At the 44-minute mark, just about half way through the film, the sun comes out for the first time. This visual switch has been done in films like Soderbergh’s Traffic, Career Girls from Mike Leigh or even Little Women from Greta Gerwig. Refn loses a bit of steam at this point in the film- and it is clearly that the morose, murky section of the film is superior.

As impressive as the first half of the film is though, the film’s ultimate cinematic painting is at the 76-minute mark. In the foreground right is Kare the Christian (Gary Lewis)- the background left is Gorm (Jamie Sives) and there is a river flowing between them- sublime.

  • Refn sites Jodorowsky’s El Topo as an influence

staging the characters in a sequence at the end of the film

  • From Walter Chaw- Film Freak Central- https://www.filmfreakcentral.net/Aguirre as conceptualized by Jim Jarmusch and executed by Terrence Malick”
  • A Must-See film- top five of the year quality