Strawberries, cherries and an angel’s kiss in spring
My summer wine is really made from all these things
“Summer Wine” Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood
There is a strange magic about the summertime. The sun shines the brightest, taking the beauty of illumination while bringing the pain of heat and burnt skin. The air grows thick with humidity, adding a dreamy heaviness to the countryside, while mirages can take on all kinds of forms. This is the same humid languidness that inhabits Brandon Colvin’s 2020 film, A Dim Valley. First thing, this is a botanical, surrealist, sensual but not quite sexual, quixotic movie, that stands out for all these reasons but especially because it is the quiet sleeper. It has a gentleness about it that feels a bit rare in the current cinematic landscape. While so many are suckling at the digital teat of our big evil cartoon mouse overlord, a film like A Dim Valley is challenging because it refuses to buckle to the status quo expectations. Fast paced? Resolutely and firmly not. The film is riddled with assorted characters smoking weed and it’s that kind of energy that the film inhabits. Slow, but never boring, while the THC seeps into your lungs and body. This is no skunk weed bought behind an abandoned roller rink, but rather a breezy drank strain a friend bought for you from Colorado.
A Dim Valley centers around a triad of characters: Albert (Whitmer Thomas,) Ian (Zach Weintraub), and Clarence (Robert Longstreet). The latter is a middle-aged botanist leading his two graduate students in the form of Albert and Ian as they spend the summer collecting samples of local mosses, moths, and other beautiful scraps of nature. The dynamic with the three is instantly curious, with our first introduction to Albert being him scraping his knee from a minor bike accident. Albert is one of those guys who always have this little impish smile perma-stamped that is a cocktail mixer of guilelessness, amusement, and Spanish Fly. Is he dense, whimsical, or just stoned? (Spoiler alert: definitely the last two.)
In contrast, Ian is more quiet and moves around as the gentle physical definition of still waters run deep and at the center is Clarence. Oh, Clarence. If you have ever worked a real grunt job, whether it’s a factory or a diner, then you have had the chance of working with a guy like this. Gruff and fueled by nicotine, hard liquor, and ribbons of heartache deeply hidden by a hardened emotional exoskeleton, this is a man that is inherently badass and Longstreet pulls this off exquisitely. There are those who are cranky but with style and heart. Without those elements, one is not cranky, but merely a garden variety asshole. Who has time for those without style and heart? Life’s too short for anything else.
Their collective summer has all the hum of the staid with hints of magic, which ends up coming to fruition in the most unexpected form of three young women: Rose (Rachel McKeon), the dark haired intuitive, Reed (Feathers Wise), the flaxen-haired Athena as a half-dressed hesher, and Iris (Rosalie Lowe), who looks and acts like the love child of John William Waterhouse and Judy Collins. They first appear as a possible nighttime hallucination of Ian’s, but fully physically manifest as a trio of backpacking university students who need a place to stay after their tent is burnt by a combo of bad timing and magic.
Before your mind starts wandering towards Camp Porkies McWetTShirt territory, A Dim Valley is not that kind of creature. One of the strongest qualities about this film is the particular path it takes you on. Some of the sights are expected, but the trek feels new, which in cinema, independent or especially mainstream, is a bit of a rare bird. It does help that the combination of actresses, especially Wise, whose presence just commands the viewer’s eyeline, keeps the three from veering into pretty pixie girl caricature.
The dynamic between Ian and Albert is equally sweet, with enough awkwardness to give the fantastical nature of everything some realness. A Dim Valley in general has this omni-sexuality about it. It’s a little too fluid and airy to be labeled simply as bisexual, but this is not a realm that tethers well to firm categorizations and bless it for it. Even if it is not for your taste, and it’s not going to be for everybody, but that is exactly why it is good. When a creator goes into a project with the main goal of guaranteed broad appeal (Oh, what a folly.) then key veins get sacrificed like vision, individuality, and fortitude of the heart. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that A Dim Valley is a beautifully lensed film, thanks to Cody Duncum’s skilled cinematography. The movie would be a lot less effective without its daydreamy look.
A Dim Valley is in good hands being released by Altered Innocence, a label that has partnered with Vinegar Syndrome that focuses on the arthouse side of LGBTQ and coming of age films. In an era of binge watching and the temporary nature of films being retained via streaming, it’s reassuring to see labels like this not only releasing older films, but giving a venue to current filmmakers, too.
As Summer swamps in with its thick hot air and nearly hallucinatory humidity, A Dim Valley is prime viewing for such a season. Magic, love, exploration, and loss are all key threads in the fabric of life itself, so see each one glimmer and cleave within this film.