Down the Rabbit Hole

“Curiouser and curiouser,” the famous phrase from the Lewis Carroll classic Alice in Wonderland spoken by the heroine, could easily apply to Sérail aka Surreal Estate (1976), the directorial debut of Argentinian screenwriter Eduardo de Gregorio, who is better known as the co-writer of such films as Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Stratagem (1970), Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) and several other movies by Rivette. The English title Surreal Estate gives you the impression that this movie (filmed in France) is not going to be a reality-based narrative but that depends on the viewer’s interpretation of what they are seeing. To be clear, Sérail functions on several levels. It might be a ghost story or an unsolved mystery or a writer’s fanciful account of an actual event that occurred during his house hunt for a second home in the French countryside.

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The Eternal Search for Paradise

What is it about human nature that makes men want to climb the highest mountains, explore unknown regions in search of a rumored paradise or challenge their perceptions of the world in the name of self-discovery? It is this eternal quest that drives the narrative of  La Vallée (English title: The Valley, 1972), Barbet Schroeder’s second feature film after More (1969), a drug addiction drama that explores a similar theme of people who go too far in seeking ultimate experiences and sensations. Both films were made at a time when the youth culture of the late sixties was becoming more pessimistic and cynical about the hippie lifestyle. While More is a deep dive into hedonism that has the structure of a traditional drama, The Valley is a stranger affair. It combines ethnographic documentary elements with a loose storyline about a small group of hipster explorers who are intent on discovering an unexplored area on a map of Papua, New Guinea that is marked as a valley obscured by clouds.  

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