The concept of the film is based on conversations with three prisoners, for which the director and co-writer Boštjan Korbar asks the same set of questions, interspersed with footage of the Autodafé concert in the prison canteen. Their singer Matjaž Pikala he is also the producer and co-writer of the film, and before filming he led literary workshops in prison.
Although the interweaving of Pikal’s set poetry with interviews brings some interesting parallels, the central focus is on the interviewees and their attitude towards life, crime and punishment. All three were convicted of serious crimes: one is imprisoned for premeditated murder, the second embezzled almost half a million euros from the Clinical Center, and the third sexually abused his daughter. The moment the film reveals their crimes is sobering for the viewer and also puts the rest of their statements into perspective.
The selection of prisoners was based on voluntary application, but the subjects present diverse perspectives and show completely different attitudes towards prison and their act. Thus, the two persistently try to improve their own relationship with the world and find a way to live on, both inside the prison and with a later potential release. The third, on the other hand, talks about conspiracy theories and tries to take the conversation elsewhere with a quasi-intellectualistic discourse. And although he lets it be known between the lines that he committed the crime, he does not give the impression that he regrets his action.
But the attitude to crime and punishment is not the only theme of the film, although it is of course the most prominent. The attitude of prisoners to art is also key. All three participated in literary and other artistic workshops organized by the prison as part of re-education and with the aim of later reintegration into society. One of them even wrote and set to music a song that Vesna Zornik sings together with Autodafé. In general, it seems that contact with art is what helps them survive and find a way forward. The film ends with the release of one of the trio as he serves his sentence and heads to Ljubljana to meet his sister and try to figure out what now.
But this is also a question for the audience. After watching the film, it is clear that general ideas about prison, especially those from American films, have no connection with modern Slovenian reality. With the intimate approach of the interview, the film merely opens the door to this interesting world, which would undoubtedly deserve a whole series of different insights. But for now, we only have the opportunity to watch Valley of Tears at one of the rare screenings in the Art cinema network.