By Kassandra Sharma
Héctor Valdez’s Malpaso, originally released in 2019, is a full-length film that screened at the CaribbeanTales Film Festival (CTFF) 2020. With the theme of the night being “Determined Spirit” Malpaso does a fantastic job of delivering a story that is full of unfiltered human connection, resilience and determination. Our story starts with a poetic monologue by Braulio (Luis Bryan Mesa) to his albino twin brother Cándido (Ariel Diaz).
“This is the story of how we were born, of how you’re as white as the moon and I’m as dark as night.”
Braulio to Cándido, Malpaso (2019).
This tale is a small comfort to Cándido, who patiently waits for their father to find them. With its soft, slow, almost haunting melody accompanying the monologue, taking place in and around Malpaso, a bustling town that resides on the border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, our opening scene is of an unknown man leaving a prison. The stark black and white filter that encompasses the film truly succeeds in giving the feeling of everything being more aged and worn, making the sun seem hotter and the nights seem darker.
We see our two brothers being born, their mother unfortunately not surviving the birth and their grandfather softly sobbing. We see the boys growing up in the same small wooden shack with their grandfather, Braulio works hard in the sun with his grandfather to gather resources to sell in town, Cándido has to stay home, hidden away due to his albinism. Once they are fifteen, their grandfather passes away and their home catches fire and burns to the ground leading the boys to go to Malpaso and having to survive their new harsh and hostile surroundings.
Throughout the film, we see the unknown man making his way to Malpaso, whose inhabitants are under fear from a crime lord name La Cherna (Pepe Sierra) who uses orphans he takes off the streets to do his bidding, collecting money from the hard working citizens who already don’t have much.
After running from La Cherna’s boys, the brothers hide in the local voodoo woman’s shack. The woman warns Braulio that this is no place for his brother. The two are eventually cornered by the bullies and are taken to La Cherna who says the boys will have to work for him. Braulio unwillingly but quickly gets the hang of being a collector while Cándido sadly watches his brother’s slowly descent into loosing his innocence. Braulio however, has been secretly hiding money, slowly saving to get him and his brother out of Malpaso. Cándido takes the money to the voodoo woman to ask for a remedy drink for this brother, to be able to dream about their father and find his way back to the person he once was. Braulio is obviously upset by his brother’s childish and naive actions and storms off. He is caught by police officers and taken away to be booked into prison, Cándido not knowing a thing. As Braulio is being driven away, he sees his brother in the streets and calls out to him desperately, but he does not hear. Eventually La Cherna sells Cándido and he his taken away.
© PÖFF | Youtube
Finally, we see the unknown man reaching Malpaso, and making his way to La Cherna’s door. He demands to see the crime lord only to find out he is dead. The new boss in charge asks what the man wants, to which he replies he wants to know what happened to his brother, the albino, Cándido. After making his way back to the voodoo woman, who tells him he knew he would not find his brother she offers him one last gift, the remedy his brother bought for him so many years earlier. Braulio walks back to the remains of their old house cradling the remedy. We see a small glimmer of light, a young Braulio and Cándido running and laughing.
Malpaso is nothing short of an extraordinary tale told beautifully through the contrast of no colour. The choice to have the movie in black & white adds to the looming sense of stress and tragedy put onto the brothers from their circumstances and surroundings. The narrative does not filter what life would be like in these situations and to tell it through the eyes of twins both just wanting to take care of each other was a fantastic choice. Braulio worked hard with his grandfather in the hot sun and then under the ruthless La Cherna all in attempts to free and help his brother. Cándido, despite dangers, ventures out to obtain a small comfort that might bring his brother back to him and finally, older Braulio making a long and uneasy journey back to his hostile hometown to find his brother when all along he knew he would not. Coupled with the fantastic cinematography, somber and sad acoustic soundtrack, there is no lack of determination demonstrated in this film, which is why it was the perfect choice to be the feature of Determined Spirit night.
*Editor’s note: Malpaso screened at the 15th CaribbeanTales Film Festival 2020.