Vulcanizadora

Vulcanizadora (2024)

Vulcanizadora had its world première at Tribeca 2024, 8 Jun 2024

“When I was a kid, I was digging in my backyard, and He was like way down there,” Marty Jackitansky (Joshua Burge) tells his friend Derek Skiba (Joel Potrykus), of a youthful encounter with God, or perhaps with the Devil, down in the hole. “He told me, there’s no Hell.” These words, coming some way into Vulcanizadora, also lay out several of its key themes: for the impressionistic shots that open writer/director Potrykus’ film show a raging inferno, even if it is a tyre shop going up in flames rather than actual hellfire, with all that burning rubber explaining, in part anyway, the title; and although the film presents itself, at least initially, as a qualified kind of awkward buddy comedy, it is filled with anxious considerations of sin, guilt and eschatology, while also featuring further scenes of both Derek and Marty engaged in digging. 

When we first meet Marty and Derek, they are walking into woodlands outside Grand Rapids, Michigan. Both seem equally determined, but otherwise they could not be more different from each other. Where Marty, recently arrested for an act of arson, is laconic and travels light, Derek, who has bailed his friend, is chatty and comes with a huge backpack and proper gear (but very little camping nous). Both men are damaged goods, but pathetic loser Derek wears his crumpled, needy vulnerabilities on his sleeve, whereas the cool, reticent Marty’s problems are altogether less transparent. And while they clearly have a common purpose, Marty has little patience for Derek’s desire to turn their sylvan sojourn into a boys’ own adventure, complete with unhealthy snacks, campsite clowning and all manner of fireworks. 

While Derek wants a trip down memory lane, and a friendly ear to listen to his issues and regrets, Marty is more business-like and decisive in his approach to what they are doing together,  and just wants to get down to it. Derek keeps thinking about what is behind him – the keys he accidentally left on the bus they took, the five-year-old son Joshua (Solo Potrykus) he has lost to divorce, all the ‘cool stuff’ he was not able to do before becoming a father – while Marty is over his past, and is fully ready to face, even to impose, its painful consequences in the execution of his pact with Derek. Indeed Marty has roughly fashioned some equipment to help both of them in the process.

Vulcanizadora

Tracking two young men who are burdened with frustration and despair, who are not quite sure where they are headed, but who know that the past has not been their friend, Vulcanizadora captures their sense – an existential, perhaps even universal sense – of living on borrowed time. Yet with best-laid plans going wrong, Marty is left in a littoral limbo, not sure why he keeps evading punishment for what he freely admits he has done, trying belatedly to make some kind of amends, and digging hopelessly for answers or evidence as he struggles to unearth any meaningful trace that he might have left on an indifferent universe – like some self-documenting archaeologist or Sisyphean antihero.

Marty’s past and prospects are bleak. He has an unloving, Alzheimer’s-afflicted father (Bill Vincent) and a long criminal history, and does not even understand his own delinquency. Indeed he is driven not just by guilt (“I’m guilty” is a recurrent line) but by his increasing incomprehension regarding justice and injustice, right and wrong, life and death, in a hell that may not exist, or may even be entirely of his own making. His deep need to confess, to unburden himself, to be punished or even just acknowledged, will take him on a journey from fire to water, even as the next generation inherits the same earth and perhaps the same angst. 

Simple yet resonant in all kinds of unexpected ways, Vulcanizadora is a bittersweet story of the parallel paths that we all travel, at different paces, in the one inevitable direction, and the distractions we find to entertain or unravel us along the way. Here childhood dreams give way to adult disillusion, and life and time themselves – like the lake, merely looking like an ocean, to which the two old friends travel – seem to stretch out forever but are all too finite.

strap: Joel Potrykus’ resonant drama follows two mismatched men on a pyrotechnic journey into the woods, despair and maybe hell

© Anton Bitel