Simon (2023)
Simon (2023)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.

Release Date: April 15th, 2023 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Diego Vicentini Actors: Christian McGaffney, Jana Nawartschi, Roberto Jaramillo, Luis Silva, Prakriti Maduro, Pedro Pablo Porras, Franklin Virguez

 


 

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uxtaposing a joyous birthday celebration with riotous clashes, Simon (Christian McGaffney) is startled awake from a dream turned nightmare. Though the morning is sunny and his environment is serene, with the day reserved for soccer and relaxation at the beach with pal Chucho (Roberto Jaramillo), Simon is preoccupied with thoughts about his home, Venezuela, and what it would take to return. He’s also concerned about seeking permanent asylum in the United States, where he now resides with a tourist visa, working at a donation center and kitchen. With the help of law school student and firm paralegal Melissa (Jana Nawartschi), he hopes to meet with an immigration officer for an interview.

As Simon describes his involvement with the 2014 protests against the dictatorship in Venezuela, and the manners in which he organized a student movement there, he grows closer to Melissa. But in retelling his tale, he’s haunted not just by the governmental repression he experienced, but also by betrayal within his group and the current difficulties he faces in continuing with the cause, now that he’s relocated to Miami. If he looks out for himself, he just might be okay; but can he ever stop fighting for change – for a Venezuela free from corruption and oppression?

Though it’s based on true events (societal unrest in Venezuela hasn’t ceased, leading to a historic exodus of civilians), and arranged in a staggered storytelling manner through present day activities and informative flashbacks, the presentation is rather straightforward and routine. It’s not particularly creative, artistic, or original (despite a notably unique concept to exhibit a certain intimacy in online video conferences). Fortunately, however, the subject matter is genuinely harrowing, especially when Simon and his fellow political prisoners endure sadistic torture at the hands of the police (intermittently reminiscent of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Midnight Express”). The physical and psychological trauma they undergo resembles something out of a torture-porn horror flick. After being subjected to such atrocities, Simon is conflicted and torn. Can he go back and face additional violence? Or can he escape to greener pastures and simply forget about the compatriots who continue to suffer? “Let’s see how you sleep at night.”

The technical quality of “Simon” is evident, from the acting to the cinematography to the editing to the sound design and music to the costuming and props. It’s a sharply made, considerably realistic picture, with the lead’s situation proving paradigmatic of many rebellions across the world, each contending with the perceived futility of battling the power of a brutal military regime and becoming overwhelmed with intentions of making a difference and bolstering progress. It’s sad, scary, tragic, and infuriating, with emotional sequences getting the benefit of amplification due to the believability of the storytelling.

Curiously, though, even with the potency of the drama, there’s something missing here, which prevents the film from being wholly absorbing. The love story between Simon and Melissa is cute but mild; the friendship between Simon and Chucho is touching but customary; and the PTSD that leads to complications (and the related sleuthing required to mitigate bureaucratic crises) is frustratingly repetitive. Even revelations about motivations are rather ordinary, save for a central, driving relationship that prompts isolated behaviors, without having much to do with ultimate outcomes (though serving as a poignant manifestation of guilt). As a result, the pacing is off, chiefly since little of “Simon” portrays themes and actions that haven’t been seen before in cinema (the recent, bigger-budgeted productions of “The Mauritanian” and “Blue Bayou” are two such examples). Still, it’s a rare theatrical examination of tremendously important international conflicts and notions, which ought to be seen, even if the entertainment value of this specific project is medial.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10