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Film 'La Soledad' Is a Window Into Venezuela's Devastation

Half fiction, half documentary,La Soledad is a gripping film making the festival circuit that shows the devastating realities in Venezuela.
Scene from the film, "La Soledad."
Scene from the film, "La Soledad."Jorge Thielen

Their dreams crumbling all around them, the residents of the decaying villa La Soledad offer filmgoers a window into the catastrophic reality of the current Venezuela.

Peeling wallpaper, moldy ceilings, electrical wires snaking down walls, all remains of what was once the home of a well-off Venezuelan family. Now stripped off its splendor, La Soledad shelters long-time maid Rosina and her own family, including José, the grandson she raised. But they are one step away from homelessness. The country's situation is so dire that it's better to demolish and sell the land, the owners tell José.

"What I'm looking for is for people to share this film, so there is a face on what's happening in Venezuela," said Caracas-born Jorge Thielen Armand, director of his debut feature film, "La Soledad."

Half fiction, half documentary, the plot develops against the backdrop of a country in deep economic crisis.

A photo of the Jorge Thielen Armand, director of the film "La Soledad." Faena Films

In the movie, the now young father stays up brainstorming in the eerie tropical night to see how he can keep his family from ending up on the street. He comes up with an idea, searching for the legendary gold treasure his grandmother once heard was buried in the grounds.

Medication shortages force José to walk miles in search of a pill to control his grandmother's blood pressure. He finds none. Rosina ends up in the emergency room where doctors say they can't help, either.

A scene from the film "La Soledad."Jorge Thielen

According to the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation (Fefarven), the shortage of basic drugs reached 85 percent last year and dozens of pharmacies have closed because of the lack of supplies.

The shortage of food has also reached dire proportions. After José's young daughter asks if she could have milk in her dry cereal one day, we see him stand in line before sunrise and wait for a carton of the precious liquid until the middle of the afternoon.

Human Rights Watch and other advocacy groups have documented Venezuelans standing several hours a day outside supermarkets. By the time they get in, they find most shelves empty.

The 27-year-old filmed "La Soledad" a year ago. "Things have gotten so much worse since then," he said. "You see people rummaging through garbage for food all the time."

A scene from the film, "La Soledad."Jorge Thielen

This project is close to this director's heart. La Soledad is his great grandparents' home and José is José Dolorez López, as in his childhood friend who now lives in the old villa.

The concept behind the movie came about when Thielen Armand returned to Venezuela to visit his family and friends after years of washing dishes at restaurants to fund his first documentary, Flor de la Mar.

"When you are doing something that is close to your heart that becomes the fuel to keep you going," he said.

He saw how José lived and what had become of the home where they spent almost every weekend.

Poster for film "La Soledad."

"I had not seen him in 15 years and when I saw him it was like we were kids again," he said. He decided he had to show the world what was happening in his home country through José's eyes.

The director made a demo reel, entered it at the Venice Bienniale Competition and won the funding to make the movie. Then he cast José as the lead. "The reason why I chose to use the real people is because it was the most honest way to portray a situation that's real," he said.

La Soledad lives up to its meaning in English, loneliness. The loneliness is palpable every day of José's life. He's on his own in his struggle to support his family. He is trapped in the desperate loneliness that accompanies the type of poverty that strangles hope.

"La Soledad" is making its way through the festival circuit, including the Miami Film Festival on Monday, March 6 and the Atlanta Film Festival in April.

"I'm hoping people get the lack of hope and desperation that some of us see in the country," the director said about his beloved Venezuela. "I hope it makes people understand what a Venezuelan immigrant has gone through."

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