In film about the same man (or is it two different men?) in divergent situations, hysteria takes away from what could have been an insightful take on how similar we are.
Fabiana Werneck Barcinski
Director of Photography:
Running time: 80 minutes
Original title: Entre vales
The two men look identical. One is an economist and lives with his wife and child in a nice house in São Paulo, Brazil. He is called Antonio. The other, looking much more haggard but otherwise an exact copy of Antonio, works on an enormous rubbish heap outside the large metropolis and sleeps wherever he can. His name is Vicente.
Between Valleys (Entre Vales) cuts between the two characters throughout its 80-minute duration, running out the clock by making us ask more and more questions about the two characters’ relationship to each other. Director Philippe Barcinski also uses his camera in a peculiar way that emphasises the instability of perception when it comes to a specific object, but in the end we can feel satisfied that we have been given all the information we were looking for.
The film’s pre-credits opening scene shows us Antonio (played by Ângelo Antônio) drunk behind the wheel of his car, racing down an empty road in the dead of night. We don’t know who he is yet, but this does not bode well for the character. The first scene after the credits comprises many shots of workers on a seemingly endless landfill, as truckloads of rubbish are being dumped and spread out over a vast area, and the workers scurry across the discarded trash in seemingly random patterns, picking here and there and salvaging a piece of plastic that can be exchanged for a few reais from the recycling companies.
But before we can know what this scene means, Antonio appears with his son a short distance from the site to inspect a potential location for a new landfill. Antonio seems to have it all, but over the course of the film, he will lose almost everything that he values and end up drunk in the car.
At the same time, we see the journey of Vicente, who works on the landfill but whose beard is surprisingly short for someone who appears to be homeless and who has little knowledge of the operations on the landfill. Who is this man? Is it really Antonio, at some point in the future or maybe even the past? Will we eventually see at what point Antonio became Vicente or vice versa?
These are questions that are at the forefront of our minds as we watch the film, and the film has few surprises. The two worlds collide forcefully at critical moments, as Between Valleys tips its hand very heavily by cutting back and forth between the two characters, showing the one to be shaken by events in the other one’s life.
In the end, we do get an answer, but the truth of the story is not really the goal of the director, as by the time we reach the end, we will already have formed a very clear understanding of the notion that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, the character arc is not entirely believeable, but it is certainly more palatable than the two scenes of hysteria that first Antonio and then his wife provoke. These two scenes actually do more harm than good to the characters, as we may easily have empathised with them, had they not wallowed in their grief with such extravagance and persistence.
But Barcinski’s one visual trick that has some weight has to do with the presentation of his close-ups of a model of a landfill, which Antonio constructs with his son. The shots often rack in and out of focus, and although we at first have no idea why such shots were allowed to appear in the film, toward the end of the story, we come to realise the full significance of this approach.
Between Valleys is not an extraordinarily thoughtful film, and its moments of high emotion elicit no such feelings in the viewer, but it is an enjoyable and unsophisticated portrayal of the unexpected course a life can take as the result of tragedy.
Viewed at the International Film Festival Bratislava 2013