DFW SAFF 2018 Film Review “The Valley” 1



First, the Recap:

The aftermath of tragedy. As one’s emotional state suffers the initial heaviness of a shattering loss, the means to weather pressure from internal and external factors becomes almost impossible, the mind frantically grasping for any sense of understanding that might, if only briefly, alleviate the pain. How much truer might this be when it is a parent facing the death of a child? In the affluent region known as Silicon Valley, a highly successful tech executive and father named Neal (Alyy Khan) seeks elusive solace from just this form of devastating grief, as he and his family–wife Roopa (Suchitra Pillai) and elder daughter Monica (Salma Khan), along with their housekeeper Didi (Samina Peerzada)–struggle to fathom the suicide of their youngest daughter, Maya (Agneeta Thacker).

Attempting to bury himself in his job via promoting a new product aimed at improving human interaction and integration through tech, it becomes more that apparent the sheer force of continuing to ascertain and reconcile the heart-rending situation is simply too much. Soon becoming more and more obsessed with finding answers while wracked with his own self-imposed inner guilt, Neal begins a harrowing journey of reflection and remembrance while tracking down Maya’s school friends such as Chris (Jake T. Austin), Laura (Hope Lauren), and Alicia (Christa B. Allen), ideally to get the closure he pursues. However, the deeper Neal digs, it opens up a larger web of secrets, and even as everything around him begins to utterly fall apart, it then becomes a question of whether he, or anyone else around him, can truly make it back from the brink.

Next, my Mind:

A darkly enigmatic pilgrimage into the fractured soul and angst-ridden mind of a father suffering the loss of his child and the ensuing self-reproach and contrition he encounters within himself while also isolating his family and business partners in the process, it left no doubt that writer/director/producer Saila Kariat has a deft touch when presenting edgy, evocatively haunting material as her 95-minute independent feature effort made its Texas debut at DFW SAFF 2018. Not letting up on the tension throughout the entire narrative, the film is propelled with purposeful ferocity and dramatic fire as we watch one man’s tumble into hopelessness and desperation even as those closest to him fervently try to bring Neal back to clear thinking, only to be involuntarily immersed fully into his splintered reality where the only focus is discerning answers where none may exist or otherwise finding that said answers may not be what he ever wanted to find out. Beautifully executed cinematography follows the action with the same level of urgency the storyline dictates while Jacob Yoffee’s musical score pulls at the viewer’s emotions with conviction. It’s a hard lesson in the human condition as it applies to anyone facing a traumatic loss–“How do we move on?” “What resolution can, or will, I find?”–while also addressing an all-too-real portrait of how often we still find ways to bury our hurt or even substitute things for it, rather than actually dealing with it in a more constructive, healthy way. It’s an emotionally draining voyage here, though the finale presented manages at least some, perhaps, sense of potential hope? At least this reviewer felt so.

Actor Alyy Khan is a force of nature here in his role as Neal, a highfalutin tech executive whose life has primarily focused on work, even though it feels safe to say he more than adores his family and their well-being.  Then, in the wake of Maya’s suicide, his entire perspective on everything gets completely destroyed, and it doesn’t take long for his efforts to grieve with his family to get turned into a burning obsession for ever-evasive answers. The cost is dear, and watching the effect it has on him is heart-rending, all of which is superbly enacted from start to finish by Khan. As Neal’s wife Roopa, Pillai does a masterful job at presenting a portrait of a woman totally broken inside as well who longs to have the comfort of her husband in such a distressing time, yet may ultimately have secrets to hide as well. Every motion she makes to rectify and mend the hurt only drives her further away from Neal’s ever-escalating emotional volatility, and when their dual misery finally collides, seeing Roopa’s acute reactions to Neal’s confrontational attitude is played with such ardent and committed spirit by Pillai. It’s truly oil on fire with these two actors during their shared scenes as well as individually, which suits the story perfectly.

Salma Khan and Samina Peerzada each contribute significant roles as the elder daughter Monica and housekeeper Didi, both of whom have made better efforts to move forward beyond the aching sadness they carry, and try to be, each in their own respect, a beacon to Neal as a father and a faithful friend, with some very poignant moments from each, well played by the respective actresses. Then there is Thacker as Maya, a beautiful light snuffed out far too soon, and a girl wrought with her own demons that may or may not have come about because of her parents and/or the choices she’s made that bring on shame or a sense of failure with no one to turn to. It’s wonderfully portrayed by Thacker, and her performance only makes the narrative’s bite even more potent. Additional turns here are present as mentioned above from Austin as Chris, a boy friend of Maya’s whose own past with her is suspect, Lauren as Maya’s roommate Laura, whose just as mystified by Maya’s suicide as Neal’s, and Allen as Maya’ friend Alicia, who paints a picture of Maya’s state of being to Neal that is pivotal to the proceedings. Veteran actor Barry Corbin appears as Neal’s boss Gary, and more supporting roles than can be named are in tow as well, honestly all of which were apropos to events.

In total, with its dark, intentionally cryptic tone and huge dramatic performances, “The Valley” is one excellent piece of indie South Asian cinema that more than deserves the accolades it’s already garnered at multiple festivals. It may not be remotely light-hearted, some might even say it’s flat out depressing overall, but don’t let that steer you away from taking in this fantastic film effort.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!



One comment on “DFW SAFF 2018 Film Review “The Valley”

  1. Reply Pierre Feb 14,2018 11:00 am

    Did you know that “The Valley” is also a film of Barbet Schroeder, broadcast in 70’s.
    It is an initiatory journey in which Protagosnists must strip themselves of everything they possess to reach a sort of Eden, even if they sacrifice their lives. As often with Schroeder the emotions are strong and the aesthetics highlighted, the interpreters Bulle Ogier and Jean-Pierre Kalfon interpret with great intensity their character.

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