Two films framing Venezuelans

With roots in the same country, these stories juxtapose one another

Film stills from Beba and La Soledad
PHOTO: Courtesy of Rebeca Huntt and Jorge Thielen Armand

By: Michelle Young, Opinions Editor

Editor’s note: A previous version of this piece misspelled “Rebeca Huntt” as “Rebecca Huntt.” It has now been fixed.

Content warning: brief mention of enslavement.

Latinx Heritage Month may be coming to an end, but that’s no reason to stop watching Latin American films. Both by Venezuelan filmmakers, these two films paint a portrait of Venezuela’s economic collapse and showcase how class and race are deeply seated in the Venezuelan psyche. Beba follows the story of Rebeca Huntt, who is part of the Venezuelan diaspora, while La Soledad centres itself at home. Watching these together showcases two experiences that are entirely different, entirely intertwined, and entirely Venezuelan. 

Beba (2021)
Beba follows “Beba,” a Venezuelan-Dominican filmmaker during eight years of her life. Beautifully shot on 16mm in a documentary style, the film interviews the people Beba is closest to, reminiscing on her upbringing. At times, Beba is warm and tender, but it is also deep cutting. It explores generational trauma, white discomfort, and the microaggressions Beba faces as an Afro-Latina. It explores the intersections of a Latin American and Black identity — a necessary perspective when looking at Latin American cultures. The film is focused on her experience, opening with an overlap of voices speaking to her, giving commentary on her character. The voices cut out. Text fills the screen: “This is my part. Nobody else speak.” 

She describes her childhood summers in Mendoza Fría, a town in Trujillo, which is southwest of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital. “It’s the last time I’ll ever come to this country,” she says. It hits like a pile of bricks. Beba’s excerpt on Venezuela is a short one, but it is poignant. It lays a deeper understanding of Beba’s journey throughout the film. 

Beba is vulnerable, personal, and filled with wounds. It is unyielding in its portrayal of family and racism. “I carry an ancient pain that I struggle to understand,” she narrates. But Beba is also filled with healing. It’s like listening to a friend and holding their heart as they tell you their story. It’s like a love letter to herself, whispering, “I see you. I feel your pain. You’ll be OK.” 

La Soledad (2016)
Set in contemporary Venezuela, the film follows a father, José, trying to take care of his family and save their home, which is going to be demolished. He tries to find the treasure rumoured to be hidden in the house by those previously enslaved by the house owners. José’s abuela (grandmother) is becoming increasingly at risk of being displaced, as her landlord is upset for letting her family stay with her. While they live in a leaking, peeling, cracking house, we see Marley, José’s partner, cleaning a new and pristine kitchen stove, highlighting racial and class divisions.

La Soledad is directed by Jorge Thielen Armand, who also co-founded La Faena Films, a film production company focused on Venezuelan identity. I have never seen Venezuelan daily life depicted in film. To watch La Soledad was both soothing and heartbreaking. I was grateful for the attention to detail in this story, and the validation of having a Venezuelan experience on screen, for the world to see. However, it was saddening to watch this reality. To live in it is something I have gratefully not experienced. 

When José’s daughter comments she wanted milk in her cereal, he explains the cows are on vacation. There is no milk. Even after lining up at the grocery store for hours, the shelves are essentially empty. The search for medicine is endless. While Venezuelans migrating elsewhere has been increasingly common over the years, there are still some who choose to stay. This is a point of conflict between José and Marley, who wants to leave and find work elsewhere. José doesn’t seem to see migration in his future. My grandmother, too, never wanted to leave Venezuela. It was hard to wrap my head around at the time, but I appreciated this aspect being explored in the film. 

Venezuelan films and filmmakers can be hard to come by, especially in North America. However, they are slowly creeping into our mediascape, with a fairly recent batch of films such as Bad Hair (2013), The Family (2017), La Fortaleza (2020), and Once Upon A Time In Venezuela (2020) being released in the past 20 years. Often, Venezuela shows up in the news when discussing it as the country with the highest inflation rate in the world, at 400 per cent. Sometimes, there are articles about deportation, but rarely do I get to see in the media what I saw with Beba and La Soledad — stories of two Venezuelans, two people, caught in the socioeconomic history of Venezuela.

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