July 22, 2008
Valley of Peace, 1956
Overtly influenced by René Clément's anti-war film Forbidden Games, France Stiglic's equally poignant and impassioned Valley of Peace captures the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of its most vulnerable victims - a young girl named Lotti (Evelyne Wohlfeiler) and a protective older boy, Marko (Tugo Stiglic). Taken into custody by German soldiers who are rounding up children orphaned by recent air raids for placement in foster homes, Lotti longs to go to the Valley of Peace that her late grandmother had often sung about, an idyllic place just beyond the trees and across a flowing river that remains untouched by war. Convinced that Lotti's description matched his uncle's farmhouse perfectly, Marko decides to run away with Lotti and, with little more than Lotti's doll in tow, make their way through the hinterlands where a buffer zone exists between the Germans who are still in the process of scouting the uncharted territory, and partisans who have fortified their positions along the foothills. Cornered by pursuing German soldiers, and frightened by the sight of low flying Allied planes on a reconnaissance mission, the children attempt to cross the river only to find themselves stranded in midstream by the deep waters, rescued by an American pilot, Jim who parachuted into safety after his plane was shot down (in a groundbreaking performance by African-American expatriate, John Kitzmiller who received the Award for Best Actor at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival). Determined to bring the children to the safety of the uncle's farm and seek assistance from the partisans hiding beyond the valley, Jim becomes a surrogate parent to the deeply traumatized children and, consequently, comes to embody all their pinned hopes for finding peace. As in Forbidden Games, Valley of Peace similarly wears its heart on its sleeve to create an unabashedly humanist moral tale on the folly of war and its toll on the innocent. Using the turning of the waterwheel as a metaphor for the children's return to normalcy, the image becomes one of inherent contradiction, signaling both a long-awaited homecoming and the impossibility of coming home.