Connect with us

Movie Reviews

Valley of Souls ★★★★



Director: Nicólas Rincón Gille

Cast: Arley de Jesús Carvallido Lobo

Released: San Francisco Film Festival 2021

Valley of Souls is that haunting, brooding tale that lingers with a slow-burning portrayal of parental love and grief. Set amongst a political backdrop in Colombia with mesmerising views across the Magdalena river, Valley of Souls is moving, beautifully poignant and has produced a star in its lead actor within a first-time role.

The film follows the character José, captivatingly played by Arley de Jesús Carvallido Lobo, who is a fisherman on a mission after work travelling downriver to find his sons who have disappeared. However, this is not just a case of some wayward sons staying out late after a night partying, this is 2003 Colombia. During that time, there were political difficulties with paramilitary destruction resulting in the kidnapping and murdering of citizens non-discriminatorily along the river.

Valley of Souls embeds itself subtly in such landscape like a dull pain, it is always there hovering in the background with that sense of dread and potential heartbreak whilst José undertakes his investigation. The river bed, quite literally, is that valley in the film’s title as there are rumoured corpses floating along the stream as a sobering thought. As such, Valley of Souls will be one of those understated films with a powerful impact operating as an unsettling suspense-filled drama.

Reminiscent of the film Identifying Features, which equally explores a parent’s unyielding quest to find a missing child, there are some helpful souls along Jose’s odyssey providing guidance but advise of the looming danger which underpins the film. The muted colours, naturalistic river sounds and sombre atmosphere accentuate that sense of impending gloom and danger. Still, it is never explicit and therefore immerses the audience fully within the mystery that José must solve.

This underlying tension and Carvallido Lobo’s expressive reactions, as José continues his quest, keep audiences compelled in this tale and identifying with José. As a human interest story, there is sufficient intrigue to want the mystery to be solved despite the potential for tragedy. The poetic pace requires the audience to be patient but showcases Carvallido Lobo’s ability, with his physical presence, as he is present in almost all scenes. Each of his movements are impactful, from confused looks to his plea uttering the desperately poignant words ‘Please, do not kill me.’

Nicolas Rincón Gille’s vision effectively creates a sympathetic portrait of José as an isolated man guided by hope, love, and determination. It is rare to see such a portrayal of a father who is not seeking revenge but merely seeking answers and resolution, to Gille’s credit. Valley of Souls, therefore, imbues a degree of spirituality within its tone and unique approach. As such, Valley of Souls belies its status as a first feature film from Gille. The film’s mature, sensitive direction, focus on visuals and emotion with minimal exposition proves that Gille is skilful at eliciting an extremely soulful performance from Carvallido Lobos, which the film relies upon.

This sense of spirituality and perseverance, despite the odds, adds to the gripping nature of Valley of the Souls, particularly as that river is strikingly either a source of life or a source of death. The insight provided through José’s interactions with locals over the film’s course indicates that turmoil within Colombia. It is a heart wrenching, emotive tale within that political context as the personal impact for the marginalised is highlighted. Many heart-stopping, tear-jerking moments are interspersed with a beautiful serenity emphasising the multi-faceted nature of Valley of Souls.

The mere sight of the close-ups of Josés face starring out amongst the still but beautiful cinematography, with impressive long takes, conveys such lingering emotional impact. Valley of Souls is an eye-opening experience with a pseudo-documentary nature and simple tale of humanity that leaves its mark on the soul.

Just For You