Crisis in Venezuela: Screening of La Soledad

Posted on December 5th, 2019 by

La Soledad is an interesting and complex film of a personal narrative within the wider societal context of Venezuela. This film is not one that can simply be watched casually and then moved on from without further thought. Before the film, political science and history professors gave background on Venezuela’s economic and social situation, which provided a necessary framework for the setting and context of the plot as a result. After the film, the talkback with the director, Jorge Thielen Armand, clarified the inspiration for the story as well as the purpose of specific elements within the film. Because of these additional resources, it was a unique screening experience for a unique film.

La Soledad is a narrow lens to a larger issue: Venezuela’s deteriorating economy. Venezuela today has one of the world’s fastest declining economies, and an alarming number of its people are facing poverty and malnutrition. As an oil-rich nation, Venezuela’s wealth soared in the 1970s during the oil crisis. But when the crisis lifted, Venezuela’s economy plummeted. Leaders responded with neoliberalist policies, such as tax reform and privatization of industries, as well as the gradual corruption of the country’s democratic system. Venezuela continues to suffer today from a declining economy and a government too wrought with corruption to fix it, while the people are forced to scrounge for basic necessities. 

La Soledad is not directly about these broad issues and pointedly does not offer any solutions, but it does present the relationships between people and their environment as a result of a collapse like this. In contrast to the solidarity implied by the title and much of the framing within the movie, the idea of having “roots” is evident within the imagery and the tension of the story itself, which is something many people in the Central and South Americas are having to grapple with in the current economic and political landscape. La Soledad is one example of this. As the film tells the true story of Armand’s family home, the home used in the film and the people who live there are real. For the actors, it isn’t just a story; it’s their lives. This is not an example of the circumstances driven by the economic crisis, it is the circumstances for these people in particular. In the film, the protagonist, José, and his family struggle to maintain their home and their lives in the wake of Venezuela’s economic struggles. The home they occupy is owned by the Armand family who see destroying the house and selling the lot as the most viable option, considering the economic circumstances. This would leave José and his family homeless. In the hopes of saving the house, José searches the property for the mythic treasure his mother tells him of, which is his task for a significant part of the film.

The director said the genre of the film is a “documentary dream”, accounting for its factual, personal, and fantastical elements. It is difficult to sort La Soledad into a single category or genre, but as soon as he said that this style was his vision for it, it seemed undeniably to fit. This medium of storytelling is not typical in current media, at least to such an extent, and it brought a new lens to not only the context of the film, but to storytelling as a whole. Innovation within the art of storytelling is necessary as the world keeps developing. Telling a personal story in this way, but also allowing the story to have a life of its own outside of the true and historical context, was very special and allowed for the limits of various genres to be transcended. 

As someone who is planning on studying film, there were certain film techniques I thought were interesting along with the notable genre. The sound design was something extraordinary that encapsulated much of the film’s themes within one aspect. All of the sounds in the film were organic; there was no soundtrack that played in the background or a “title theme” to denote important points in the narrative. The only “music” in the film was part of a scene, showing an aspect of community rather than the isolation or “soledad” that the rest of the film communicates. For the most part, it was an uncluttered film noise-wise; however, key moments where the sound was oppressive were where the fantasy elements came in, which lended itself to the contrast between reality and the magical, the past and the present. Not only do these moments separate themselves from the rest of the movie, they make viewing the film difficult for the audience. This, to a much lesser degree, communicates the struggle of José through a sensory element rather than a clear script or narrative. The emphasis on feeling, on being so consumed by one element that the rest are drowned out, lends itself to a key interpretation of the social context of the film, as well as José’s individual quest. These basal sounds coinciding with the fantasy aspects of the film also lend itself to the Latin American literary tradition of magical realism, where magic and reality exist side-by-side to the point where a fantastical element does not require complete departure from reality to be included in a narrative. Pairing the supernatural aspects of the quest for gold and the spirits of the house with plausible but distinct sensory elements creates a transition from the irreal to the real. Though on the surface La Soledad appears simple and at times lacking as far as concrete substance, that presentation is precisely what drives the complexity of the film.

Written by  Michaela Woodward, ‘23 and Grace Worwa ’22

 

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