Film: La Soledad
Director: Jorge Thielen Armand
Venezuelan director Jorge Thielen Armand’s debut film is a measured biographical account of his family and friends’ lives in present-day Caracas.
Made amid ongoing economic turbulence and violence, and acted not by professionals but by the people whose story the film tells, it carries a controlled anger.
To the world outside of Venezuela, familiar with images of masked protesters and tear gas, this is an unexpected slice of melancholia. Lingeringly shot and with improvisational dialogue seemingly built into the script, it opens up the everyday world of people in a once thriving country now staggering from one day to the next.
La Soledad, meaning solitude, is the quiet home belonging to Armand’s wealthy white family. Crumbling and mould-infested, this overgrown mansion lies deserted by its owners, who mostly left the country after the family’s matriarch died. But their elderly black housekeeper Rosina still lives there with her grandson “El Negro” (real name José), his partner Marley and their young daughter Adrializ, all facing a precarious future in the house they grew up in.
Negro’s childhood friend Jorge spent summers at La Soledad with his cousins. He has not deserted the house or its struggling occupants, but his family members have other plans.
With fresh memories of late president Hugo Chavez encouraging the poor to repossess vacant properties, La Soledad has been sold and earmarked for demolition.
“The mangoes are late this year,” says Rosina – as if things in Venezuela aren’t bad enough.
If you think TT has it rough, the film is a window into the hopelessness being felt over there. But instead of exposing us to raw violence, like Fernando Meirelles’ City of God, set in Rio, it instead shows a population consumed by sadness and futility. The only control people have over their lives is through crime or economic migration.
We hear of the brutality – Negro’s brother Tito arrives from a friend’s funeral in the slums at which gang members showed up and killed the father of the deceased – but we don’t see it.
We see food queues, empty shelves, backdrops of concrete, the shortages of everything, even life-saving medicine.
“There is no milk because the cows are on vacation,” Negro lovingly tells his hungry daughter.
We see the psychological effects of his sleepless nights burdened with the fate of his loved ones. Kind, contemplative and the main breadwinner, he is determined to stay clean – despite temptations.
At weekends, neighbourhood revellers lime at the house, but the schmaltzy reggaetón feels hollow.
Mrs Irene, the rich proprietor, objects to “all these people” turning her inheritance into a “squat house.” Venezuela’s charitable days are a distant idyllic dream.
Can the tight family unit survive hardship that makes even a simple day at the beach a rare experience? With Colombia or Ecuador next door, ought they to leave?
For what? asks Negro. “To work like slaves?”
But the house itself has its own haunted past and he is troubled by the things he sees in the shadows.
Armand’s film barely mentions Maduro’s government. Whether this is because the producers worked within the constraints of an increasingly authoritarian state or because Armand preferred to ignore the political class and instead show the world ordinary Venezuelans is unclear, but nonetheless it is deeply, implicitly political.
La Soledad will have its Caribbean premiere at MovieTowne San Fernando tomorrow at 6 pm and will screen on Monday at MovieTowne, Port of Spain.