I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
It’s a rare thing, and one to give a film lover goosebumps: to discover a movie that truly isn’t like anything you’ve ever seen before. There have been other movies that blend documentary and narrative storytelling, but not many, and none so beautiful as this one. La Soledad, the extraordinary feature debut of Venezuelan filmmaker Jorge Thielen Armand, is a strikingly intimate and humane tale that is simultaneously about a house, a family, a city, and a nation.
Armand’s great-grandparents owned the once-grand, now crumbling villa called La Soledad in what used to be a wealthy Caracas neighborhood; since their deaths, their former caretaker, elderly Rosina (María Agamez Palomino), has been living in what is now the near ruins of the mansion with her son, José (José Dolores López), his wife, Marley (Marley Alvillares), and their adorable little daughter, Adrializ (Adrializ López). But now Armand’s family wants to raze the house and sell the property, which ignites a desperation in José: Where will they go? How will they survive? Theirs is far more more anguished a plight than even poor people in other countries might experience, for Venezuela’s ravaging economic crisis has left no safety net, not civic or personal, for anyone: there are massive queues to get into empty supermarkets; there are no essential medications to be had (such as for Rosina’s high blood pressure) even in the sidewalk black markets.
Armand finds bleak poetry and even harsh beauty in the very real, authentically factual situation of José and his family, all playing themselves, in a “story” set in their own home: José’s “explanation” to Adrializ about the sparsity of her breakfast — “the cowboys called, there is no milk because the cows are on vacation” — is an achingly poignant attempt by a father to sugarcoat reality for his child. And Armand and cinematographer Rodrigo Michelangeli shoot the house as if it exists in a mystical realm between worlds… which it truly does, with nature intruding as junglelike vegetation creeps in through decaying walls, and with the past a constant presence in the Armand family’s old photographs and forgotten possessions that haunt the rooms. If a house is a living thing, this one is dying, but it may still have mysteries to reveal, perhaps one that will help José with his problem.
Gorgeous and naturalistic, La Soledad — award winner at the Nashville, Atlanta, and Miami film festivals this year — feels captured rather than constructed even when it dips into the supernatural, as if it really is peering in at a world just to the side of our own. As if a man’s urgency to help his family might stretch into that realm to find some helpful magic. This is a secret treasure of cinema. Seek it out.