Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
MFF ’17: La Soledad
estimated 85% of all conventional prescription drugs are no longer available in
Venezuela. Queues stretch around the block at grocery stores, but there is no
guarantee anything will be left on shelves after downtrodden Venezuelans spend
hours waiting to get in. It is worth remembering the grim living conditions
faced by average citizens the next time Joe P. Kennedy offers you some free
heating oil from his bosses, Citgo Oil and the Chavez-Maduro regime. Life takes
an even more desperate turn for a family of squatters in Jorge Thielen Armand’s
docu-narrative hybrid La Soledad (trailer here), which screens
during the 2017 Miami Film Festival.
was once a grand mansion in a fashionable district of Caracas, but it is now a
crumbling shell. It really is the ancestral home of Thielen Armand’s family and
his friend José Dolores López (“El Negro”) really lives there with his wife,
daughter, and grandmother—at least he has up to now. The owners had allowed
their former maid, Rosina Palomino to stay there, under the radar, in gratitude
for her years of faithful service. However, her grandson José’s family
attracted unwanted attention when the moved in. Frankly, the matriarch just
unilaterally decides they are better off demolishing the house and selling off
puts her grown son Jorge (the meta-sounding “Jorge R. Thielen H.,” also playing
himself) in an awkward position. Despite his upper-class lineage, he works as a
handyman, frequently sharing his gigs with José. Facing the very real
possibility of homelessness, the faithful grandson is simultaneously conducting
a hard target search of every surviving pharmacy and free clinic in Caracas,
hoping to find Palomino’s high blood pressure pills. Periodically, he also
tries to buy milk for his eight-year-old-ish daughter, with only marginally
better results. Out of concrete plans, José seeks deliverance in a family
legend of buried treasure, in open defiance of the spectral slave, who was
supposedly murdered to watch over it.
clearly the Chavist revolution has been a smashing success. Medical care and
nutrition are practically non-existent, plus civil liberties have been sharply
curtailed. On the bright side, the income disparities between the two families
has been dramatically reduced.
Armand does indeed show viewers the queues, the crumbling buildings, and the
dire implications of the consumer scarcities. However, La Soledad does not exactly represent a riveting work of
storytelling. Frankly, this is a film more about sense of place, mise-en-scène,
and poverty porn rather than thrilling narrative peaks and valleys. In many
ways, it echoes Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Treasure (both feature a lot of hardcore metal-detecting), but the
grabbiest part of La Soledad is the
treasure’s ghostly backstory.
is undeniably compelling to watch the real life José, Jorge, and Palomino contend
with their mean circumstances, but as a film La Soledad is rather static. It provides a valuable time capsule record of
living conditions under the Chavist regime, but the drifting narrative peters
out instead of building towards a climax. Recommended as an impressionistic
work of reportage rather than an accessible cinematic family drama, La Soledad screens Monday night (3/6)
during this year’s Miami Film Festival.
Labels: MFF '17, Venezuelan Cinema