‘Simón’ Portrays and Works to Heal Venezuelan’s Collective Wound


Every Venezuelan, inside and outside the country, keeps latent wounds. They are not visible to everyone, but instead, often remain buried methods of survival. The new film Simón makes us notice them, knowing that on this occasion, reality is as crude as fiction.

“I want the rest of the world, not just Venezuelans, to connect with the movie, to make it as personal and individual as possible. And usually what that tends to do is [it] universalizes it,” Diego Vicentini, the director of Simón, told Latina Media Co. Simón is Vicentini’s debut feature film and it was nominated for a Goya, Spain’s equivalent of the Academy Awards. It hits the US via Netflix on June 1, having already been available to subscribers in LATAM and Spain.

To write the script, Vicentini interviewed the victims of the regime of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, people who were subjected to arbitrary detentions, torture, and repression. These oppressive actions continue with more than 270 political prisoners behind bars today. “You know that this isn’t some extraordinary thing that occurred to a couple of people. This is so normal in our country that wherever I did a screening and it’s just 150 people, maybe 500 people, there is always somebody that had been tortured,” Vicentini said. Indeed, the continuing unrest has caused a massive migration, making Venezuelans the largest refugee population in the Western Hemisphere with nearly 8 million people in exile.

“That really hit me because it’s a way of grasping the magnitude of what’s been done to our people, to our country,” he said. “You can understand it conceptually and you can read about the numbers and the thousands of people that have gone through this. But it’s another thing to just really experience [it] – and just a person, person after person, and look in their eyes and hear them what they have been through. And then two days later, go to another country, another city, and hear the same story.”

Making and distributing a film that tells the story of ongoing human rights violations was not easy. When it came time to apply for permits in Venezuela, Vicentini received the film’s certificate of nationality with a remark that felt like a warning: the registration says the film could breach the law against hate and peaceful coexistence – a controversial law, with penalties of between 10 and 20 years in prison, that recalls the reality of the country, one of censorship, instability, and persecution.

“At this point, we hadn’t shown the movie anywhere. This was just a private link we sent for them to be able to watch and evaluate it,” Vicentini explained. “So, it was basically a warning about what could happen if we released the film.”

After that, the director returned to Venezuela for a short time to screen the film at a local festival. “It was a measured risk. And we just took all the precautions,” he says. “I traveled to Colombia and I had to go in through the border. I didn’t announce it anywhere that I was going back to the country, which was 14 years since I had last been there. And it was really surreal because one of the guys I interviewed when I was writing the movie, like a real-life Simón, he was the one who picked me up in Colombia and I entered the country with him through the border,” Vicentini recalled.

The atmosphere at the festival and the press conference was tense due to the presence of government delegates. “It was very stressful to be at the festival and show the film, especially during the screening… now, eyes were on us,” says Vicentini, who decided to leave earlier than planned through a land border again, after being tipped by a friend that he could be in danger.

When the project began, Vicentini went on a journey to release the emotional burden he portrays in Simón. The director’s guilt, like that of many Venezuelans abroad, is palpable in the film. He lived through the 2017 protests, one of the largest in the country, from his new home in the United States while studying cinematography. In an attempt to contribute, he captured the story in his thesis, a short film that would later garner additional support.

“I’ve lived more than half my life outside of Venezuela, I left when I was 15, so that’s probably also emotionally the perspective I understood the most, of what it feels like to see our country from the outside, to see what’s happening and be so far away, and that guilt that you feel because you’re not physically there. You feel like you’ve abandoned or you’re not contributing to the fight, and in a way that’s sort of the emotional epicenter of the film, that guilt that Simón feels,” Vicentini says.

Simón is a reflection of the country; Venezuelans understand what guilt means. We know what pain, loss, instability, and violence entail. As a journalist, I covered many of these protests in Venezuela; as a citizen, I lived the reality; as a migrant, I understood what it is like to leave behind a past while trying to move forward; and as a viewer, I cried remembering the pain of an entire population.

“For sure with Venezuelans there’s just a very deep personal, existential connection with the movie. But yes, I’ve had the experience of being in the movie theater with people that are not Venezuelan and it always impresses me when I see somebody who’s not Venezuelan crying, somebody from the United States, somebody from Chile, somebody from Spain,” Vicentini says.For me, Simón is a must-see film that needs a wide audience to help prevent stories of oppression from continuing on loop. Simón is necessary to give a clear context about the unsafe places we call home that can become our prisons. It’s a film that holds space for collective pain, effectively serving as mass therapy for those who’ve lived it and a call to action for those who haven’t.

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