Between Valleys (Entre Vales): Film Review

An elegantly structured exploration of life's precariousness

Philippe Barcinski's film echoes "The Double Life of Veronique," but to much different ends, in this Brazilian drama.

SEATTLE — Two identical men lead very different lives in Between Valleys, Philippe Barcinski's thoughtful, pared-down look at how little stands between a life of middle-class contentment and one of abject poverty. Built upon Angelo Antonio's stirring dual performance, the finely balanced film would be welcome in American arthouses, where its quietly philosophical story would make good counter-programming for lightweight foreign rom-coms and more self-important fare.

The two men, Vincente and Antonio, have lives that intersect at the kind of massive Brazilian landfill seen in Lucy Walker's doc Waste Land: While the first man, a successful business consultant, has been hired to evaluate the dump's moneymaking potential, the latter is among the desperately poor souls who comb through the garbage all day, scavenging recyclables they sell for tiny sums.

Though the film hints at a connection between the men, its nature is up for debate for most of the film. Are they separated twins? Spiritual, Kieslowski-inspired doppelgangers? (SIFF festival materials spoil the mystery, as will many reviews.)

It's a testament to the film's lean but compelling storytelling that these questions take a back seat to our interest in what's going on with each man. Antonio, scrambling in competition with other trash-pickers and risking his life daily, is about to see things get even worse when dumptrucks stop bringing fresh garbage to this site. Vincente, whose marriage is falling apart, spends all his time nurturing Caio, the son he'll soon see much less of. (Repeated use of shifting-focus effects when the camera offers Caio's point of view suggests how fragile the boy's happy life is.)

Antonio enters the film as little more than an animal, receiving the rare act of generosity without thanks and sleeping in culverts without complaint. But a glimmer of higher consciousness emerges midway through the film, encouraging our curiosity about his past and concern for his future. As the parallel stories begin to hint at an overlap point, Barcinski makes it hard to decide which life offers more cause for hope.

Production Company: Aurora Filmes

Cast: Angelo Antonio, Melissa Vettore, Daniel Hendler, Ines Peixoto, Matheus Restiffe

Director-Producer: Philippe Barcinski

Screenwriters: Philippe Barcinski, Fabiana Werneck Barcinski

Director of photography: Walter Carvalho

Production designer: Marcos Pedroso

Music: Rica Amabis

No rating, 79 minutes