La Soledad (The Solitude) Review
The growing crisis in Venezuela has barely made headlines in the UK, only occasionally mentioned to make cheap points against political opponents. The death of President Hugo Chávez destabilised a country already weighed down by severe poverty, while the actions of his successor, President Maduro, have led to a raft of mass demonstrations and protests. Director Jorge Thielen Armand’s low-budget docudrama, La Soledad, uses the real-life struggles of a Venezuelan family as a metaphor for the country’s ongoing decline. The run-down mansion they call home is being sold by their rich owners, leaving them to face up to the harsh reality of eviction.
The characters that live in the house are all non-professionals playing ‘fictional’ versions of their real selves, with only one actor making a brief appearance mid-way through the film. These are friends of the director who faced losing the very same home (they have now been successfully re-housed), a play on reality that cuts straight to the bone. José (José Dolores López) is a young father living with his wife, daughter, and sick grandmother Rosina. She was a former maid for the owners who had since moved out but permitted her to stay on. The owners are upset at the large groups of people that gather on the property now that Rosina’s family are also present and decide they would better served to sell up and demolish the building.
In truth, the building is in no fit state for habitation due to its run down and decrepit condition. Plaster peels off the ceiling and holes puncture the walls, reflecting the ailing infrastructure within the country itself. Most of the drama takes place within the gated grounds of the property but when we do follow José outside, we see how basic supplies are becoming harder to come by. The supermarket shelves are stripped bare and the queue for the milk stretches round the block. Rosina suffers from high blood pressure and is running low on her medication. A visit to the local pharmacy reveals a row of empty cabinets forcing José to hunt around the local street markets in hope of finding the tablets on sale there.
The threat of violence lingers around the edges of their home and some of José’s friends try to cajole him into kidnapping and extortion as a way of making some money, a way of life José has no interest in pursuing. He’s a handyman by trade and his working relationship with Jorge (the owner's brother and in real-life the director's father) turns bitter once they are told they have to leave. Venezuela’s violent past is seen through the silent spirits that seem to tease José, with these scenes harking back to meditative moments felt in much of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s work.
It’s hard to shift the gloomy sense of despair that hangs over the film and when seen from the perspective of those living in Venezuela right now, it’s easy to understand why that exists. The flat family drama never really leaves the page and what we are left with is a look inside a country rapidly heading into decline. A stronger human narrative no doubt would have elevated the true emotional wreckage cascading through Venezuela but instead it provides a snapshot view instead of a truly informative one.