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Thursday, June 13, 2024
The Observer

Guilt and validation come to life in ‘Simón’

Maria Tobias | The Observer

Over fall break, I visited the movie theater three times: twice to watch “The Eras Tour” movie and once with my parents to watch a film I hadn’t heard of before. My mom told me the title was “Simón,” and that it was about a Venezuelan man. Like anybody who has heard of Simón Bolivar — the Venezuelan leader who helped South American nations gain independence from Spain — I assumed the film would have something to do with him. 

Unexpectedly, I suddenly realized I was a Venezuelan immigrant sitting in a movie theater in Miami watching a movie about a Venezuelan immigrant in Miami. It felt very meta. “Simón” touches on a topic I believe many movies and media lack today: guilt. The guilt people feel for leaving their decaying countries, the guilt they feel for not being able to help as much as they want and the guilt of giving up the fight. 

“Simón” masterfully draws on the nostalgia and pain of Venezuelan immigrants everywhere. The opening scene of the movie features a group of university students singing the never-ending Venezuelan birthday song, with the key detail of one of the students being blinded by the group participating in street protests. These “freedom fighters” in the 2017 riots and protests in the country were largely university students, the same age as us at Notre Dame. I remember being afraid for my cousins back home who were on the street, some of whom eventually had to leave the country, and some who stayed and fought for the only life they knew. 

The shift from political to humanitarian issues in Venezuela is one the movie portrays well. The military's treatment of average people in the country is highlighted through the torturing of hostages along with Simón, the protagonist, with one young man admitting he was kidnapped for tweeting. Committing violent crimes against their people, manipulating friends against each other and blatantly lying to the public characterized the Venezuelan regime, and while the world seemed to silently look on from the outside, the youth of the nation were on the streets begging for their patriots to help. Simón and his friends portray the true stories of several interviewed freedom fighters that writer/director Diego Vicentini spoke to while making the film. 

The sheer number of graphic images and scenes in the movie have turned away many from watching it, but I believe they are part of the message of the movie. One scene shows Simón’s new American friend Melissa searching “Venezuela” online and seeing brutal images of the humanitarian crisis in the country. Melissa becomes distressed as the images pop up, and she suddenly shuts her computer, taking the pain away. While it is easy for outsiders to simply shut their screen, it is important for film viewers to experience the pain with the characters. While it hurts to your core to see people suffering, it allows for a deeper level of understanding of victims like Simón who live through the trauma every day. 

Humanitarian crises are a difficult thing to understand when you are not directly affected by them. The current situation in Israel and Palestine is an example. You can repost, you can donate funds and you can “show support,” but at the end of the day, you are not making a significant difference. While this frustration is nowhere near comparable to the pain of those living there, wanting to help those people in need burns your heart. It is a sentiment that hits home for those who did not live those painful experiences but feel a deep connection to those who did. 

I had the opportunity to speak to Vicentini’s parents after watching the movie, and they admitted to not knowing how much the Venezuelan news and crisis affected their son — who moved with his parents to the U.S. from Venezuela at 15 — until they watched the short film he made years ago in graduate school, which was the inspiration for “Simón.” I share the sentiment with Vicentini, and watching a movie that validates both my feelings as someone who had to look from afar and that of my parents who long ago protested themselves is something I never thought I would experience. My parents and I cried the same tears in that theatre, and I’m not sure they expected it from me either. 

His parents told me that this movie was not allowed to be submitted for review for international awards by the powers that be in Venezuela, which was to be expected. Despite this, it is the most-watched movie in theaters in Venezuela in years, with hundreds of thousands watching it, and has won awards in the U.S. as well, despite the tiny budget. That should say enough about how touching it is for those who get to watch it.

After speaking with Vicentini’s parents, they gifted me a bracelet with the title of the movie and its slogan, “No ha sido suficiente” (“It hasn’t been enough”). That phrase will live with me for years to come, because the pain, the hardships, the protests and the losses haven’t been enough to stop one of the largest exoduses the Americas has seen, leaving over 7 million Venezuelans scattered across the globe without hope to return, and me sitting in the LaFun basement crying over my laptop without it too.