Walter Carvalho’s mesmerizing lensing is the main reason to catch “Between Valleys,” sophomore helmer Philippe Barcinski’s quietly ambitious but narratively flawed look at the fragility of man’s control of his destiny. Impressive images of mountains of trash being moved in a vast garbage dump have a hypnotic forward flow that drives emotions more effectively than the piecemeal editing, which chops up the story of a successful businessman whose life loses meaning when his son dies. International film-fund participation and Carvalho’s name should result in respectable fest bookings.
Barcinski’s message — that security, the trappings of success, even sanity, are mere embellishments that can be wiped out in the twinkling of an eye — has a certain visceral resonance. But the lack of character development makes several plot lacunae even more pronounced, stymieing a sense of “there but for the grace of God” that’s essential for audience identification. The film’s jumps back and forth in time are presumably meant to highlight the protag’s vertiginous fall, yet the sudden shifts instead call attention to the character’s over-agitated and under-explained madness.
A linear treatment would go like this: Vicente (Angelo Antonio) is experiencing shakeups at home and work. He and his dentist wife, Marina (Melissa Vettore), have drifted apart, with young son Caio (Matheus Restiffe) expressing his preference for Dad’s company. Meanwhile, Vicente’s boss, Carlos (Daniel Hendler), is selling the family biz to foreigners without consulting Vicente, who sees the sale as a betrayal of everything he helped build. Soon after, Caio is told Mommy and Daddy are separating, the boy has a fatal accident during a field trip, and Vicente completely falls apart.
His company had been working on constructing a new garbage dump, and the now dazed, nearly catatonic Vicente gravitates toward a pre-existing heap where the detritus of humanity scavenge for sellable scraps. Joining this quasi-feral group, he moves swiftly behind the bulldozers churning tons of unsorted rubbish. Only by being this literally down in the dumps can Vicente begin to reconnect with life again.
Barcinski (“Not By Chance”) errs by opening the pic with a shot of a drunk, intense Vicente (Antonio overplays it here) driving recklessly on a dark road, since the character initially appears so exaggerated that it takes some time to warm to the guy. It’s never exactly clear what kind of work his company does, and Marina’s character barely exists beyond a sad-eyed shell. Viewers may feel sympathy for Vicente’s situation, but his anguish rarely punches through the off-putting wall of deadened nihilism that characterizes his garbage-dwelling days.
However, it’s precisely these trash-heap scenes that make the most impact, thanks to Carvalho’s compelling images of tumbling mounds of rubbish, like enthralling waves threatening to engulf the scrap collectors. Visuals play with closeups and out-of-focus shots, heightening the sense of the characters’ isolation from each other and society. The pic has the alternate title “Amid Valleys and Mountains.”