Armand’s Venezuela converses in a vocabulary which is couched in struggle. There are explicit mentions to armed confrontation, but it is the small actions which flesh out these issues. We never see riots in the streets but we feel their effects. José’s daughter doesn’t have any milk for her cereal, and his grand-mother is unable to get her medication. In a film fluidly shot, Armand is unafraid of letting the camera linger uncomfortably; a desolate supermarket being the case in point. The director invites the viewer to study the entirety of the frame on many occasions, and the result is seldom uplifting.
More joyful inflections come at the start and end of the story. Bookending the film are sepia-toned camera rolls of a Venezuela long gone. The house which now lies dilapidated was, previously, full of life. In an instance of the art imitating life, a central question hangs over proceedings; namely, how did this happen? The house thus becomes a clear metaphor for Venezuela itself. As portraits of Simon Bolívar overlook several scenes, it transpires that the country’s idealistic origins have decayed.
There are moments when La Soledad flirts with magical realism to try and counter this rot. Hushed conversations about spirits and hidden treasures lead the optimistic viewer into believing that there will be a supernatural Macguffin which will alleviate the struggles of the family. The escapist dreams of Guillermo Del Torro’s Pan’s Labyrinth feel close at hand. However, the power of Armand’s film is that it punctures this alternative reality before it has time to take hold. Ethereal noises build to a crescendo before being halted dramatically by the cold light of day. This speaks to the documentarian within Armand; the point being, of course, that present-day Venezuelans do not have an easy escape route.
The closing scene offers both hope for the future and despair for the present. The Venezuelan sea feels all-encompassing and mesmeric, and calls to mind another beautiful recent film. The fact Armand has created something which feels even linked to Moonlight is high praise in itself. Barry Jenkins’ masterful picture followed a life across decades, and whilst Armand’s is a vignette of an ongoing struggle, there is a similarly powerful emotional timbre.
Indeed, there are moments in which the film becomes a paean to the continuing resolve of the Venezuelan people. Though the film could’ve benefitted from more narrative bite, it is a compelling canvas of a country in turmoil. Venezuela’s future may be uncertain, but Armand’s must surely be bright.
La Soledad is released on August 18th