Exotic mind-expanding drugs, free love, and seeking paradise all mark La Vallée as a sixties period piece (actually it's 1972, but that's well within the time zone that studios attempted to mine the hippie culture). When one of the free love women attempts to explain to the “outsider” how she erroneously loves like a self-contained bottle while they have learned to love like the ocean, you may either feel akin with a hippie "wow" experience or find yourself giggling a bit at the film's datedness. Fortunately, Barbet Schroeder's film has more in common with his 1974 Idi Amin Dada documentary than his more recent Murder by Numbers melodrama to make seeking La Vallée a worthwhile trip.
Pink Floyd's "Obscured by Clouds" wafts through the opening overhead shot of beautifully rugged green and lime colored mountains, as a voiceover sets the stage:
"In the heart of the New Guinea, one of the world's largest islands, the Australians discovered these mountains in 1954. No roads led to them. They are inaccessible."
Naturally the audience now wants to explore the unknown region that has only been marked on maps with white spots, and curiosity is further heightened when the "hippie" leader hints that the unknown region marks Paradise. He and a small troop are readying themselves to "return to the Garden" but may be open to another seeking soul.
Bulle Olgier plays the bored, sophisticated diplomat's wife (Vivian) we first meet at a New Guinea export shop. She hates social engagements, so she often escapes to exotic places to see wares for her French boutique, and is especially attracted to bird feathers. Inevitably, Vivian hooks up with Olivier (Michael Gothard), whose beautiful bird of paradise feather mesmerizes and obsesses her to the point of heading off towards the mysterious unknown valley of paradise. Well, sex also has something to do with that obsession too.
Seeking lost worlds and paradise comprise dozens of film plots, from The Lost World, Lost Horizon, and King Kong to Jurassic Park. If this was the main attraction for Schroeder's film, there would be no real need to resurrect another "Paradise Lost or Not Found" plot; however, the real treats lie with the incredibly vivid location photography with real natives and colorful ceremonies. While the tribal sequence slows down the plot, the mundane story is incidental anyway; thus, these scenes highlight the film.
Don't look for PETA members to enjoy the pig killing scenes, and don't expect to see any disclaimers that “no animals were harmed” during the filming. Squeamish viewers may want to avert their eyes when the natives are clubbing the pigs to death, but they should definitely keep their eyes on the screen for other amazingly beautiful scenes of the tribal conclave and rugged trek. The observations are all too brief, symbolized by the clipped ending, but the background scenery is strong enough to save former hippies and sixties people from embarrassment and justify Home Vision Entertainment's efforts to preserve La Vallée on DVD.