Monday 30 April 2018

WOMEN OF THE VENEZUALEN CHAOS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hot Docs 2018 Hot Pick

Through the eyes of its women, a country crumbles.

Women of the Venezuelan Chaos (2017/2018)
Dir. Margarita Cadenas

Review By Greg Klymkiw

To see a formerly progressive democratic nation crumbling under the weight of corruption, incompetence and dictatorship of Nicholas Maduro's foul reign is one thing, but to view it through the eyes of five brave women from very different walks of life is something else altogether. This not only provides a personal, human (and humane) perspective, but does so by creating a fascinating glimpse into the realities of a gender that is clearly on the frontline of a country's war upon its own people.

Women of the Venezuelan Chaos proves that a clear, simple approach to a complex issue is often the best way to explore it. Director Margarita Cadenas delivers a clutch of macrocosmic views that allow for a much larger bird's eye view of the current tragedy facing Venezuela, a beautiful country, rich in oil, other abundant natural resources and industry. With its 30,000,000+ population, situated at the northernmost reaches of South America, this is a country that should be thriving. These days, the only people who are flourishing seem to be the deeply corrupt totalitarian government that brutalizes the majority of its citizens, the corporate hogs who rape the country of its riches and an ever-exploding criminal element.

Survival is what appears to drive those who must do the real living and dying of Venezuela. For them, quality of life is existence fuelled by sheer endurance. The government spouts positive propaganda to its citizens and the rest of the world. The reality is in direct opposition to what its dictatorship wants everyone to believe.

Bookended by the simple facts of this current existence, Cadenas provides us with five stories. The first is that of Kim, a nurse who must provide for her family by working 12 back-breaking hours in a hospital everyday. Though she appears to be better off than most, she must seriously consider fleeing Venezuela in search of a better life. The threat of violence surrounds her, anything of value in her home must be hidden from thieves and worst of all, her primary job in a hospital is fraught with frustration since anyone admitted there must actually bring their own supplies with them to be treated.

María José is a community worker living in a relatively secure Caracas neighbourhood, but with one child and another on the way, she is forced to stockpile basic goods like diapers and non-perishable foods in anticipation of the new mouth to feed since basic items are scarce and can only be purchased on the black market for many times more than their actual worth.

Eva is in her early twenties and lives with her son, mother and extended family in South America's largest, most dangerous slum. The only thing that drives her is waiting in lines, often for days, to secure a number to wait in line for basic foods to live on.

Luisa is in her late 70s and lives with her husband. Both are retired police officers. Their grandson, who used to live with them, was an actual member of parliament in the opposition party who was illegally arrested and incarcerated without formal charges or a trial - for years.

Finally, we get the most harrowing story of all, that of Olga, a forty-something mother of three children whose home was illegally raided by police searching for a crime lord. She watched, with a gun shoved in her mouth, as her 16-year-old boy was shot. He slowly died before her very eyes until the cops came to the conclusion that they were in the wrong place. That the boy, a suspected "criminal", was shot, unarmed, in cold blood, is shocking and appalling. That he, and by extension the whole family, were not in any way, shape or form connected to a criminal element, is not only the height of Totalitarian stupidity, but even by Venezuela's lame standards of jurisprudence, illegal. Justice and yes, even revenge, keep her going.

Though in each story, Cadenas allows each subject to simply recount their respective stories, this is no mere "talking heads" experience. Even if it was, these are pretty compelling and forceful stories. But no, cinematographer César Briceño shoots these sequences with exquisite compositions, capturing the indelible qualities of the subjects' faces, allowing us to dive into their eyes in order to experience the pain of their existence and to get beautifully, naturally lit shots of their homes and beyond, on the highways and byways of world outside these fragile sanctuaries, the physical environments with which they live and work. This is dazzlingly-directed work by a clearly gifted filmmaker. Her subjects express deep emotion, Cadenas captures said emotion unflinchingly and we experience it. Also driving the film is a powerful and alternately passionate and dissonant score by Rémi Boubal. The editing and structure, is so simple and effective, and the film offers plenty of evocative and poetic interludes during the stories themselves and in between.

There is bravery here on two levels. Firstly, is the bravery of the filmmaking itself. Choosing this seemingly simple approach is what allows for political, social and emotional complexity. Secondly, there is the sheer bravery of the subjects - not just for their suffering, strength and ingenuity, but that they have exposed their lives and stories in a country which goes out of its way to silence those who would dare criticize it. And sometimes, the silence is permanent.

The bravery of the filmmaking and these women feels representative of the courage and fortitude of the vast majority of Venezuela's population. Even more, it is a perfect representation of the evil and cowardice of Venezuela's ruling powers. One can only hope that this is a film that will open the eyes of the world to this government's actions. That over one million people have had to flee the country is a disgrace. Yes, one hopes the rest of the world will open their collective arms to those who leave, but it would ultimately be far more advantageous for the rest of the world to pressure the country's totalitarian rulers to genuinely restore the nation to its former glory - to allow those who do most of the living and dying in Venezuela, to do so in peace and with dignity.


Women of the Venezuelan Chaos enjoys its Canadian Premiere in the Oxfam Canada-sponsored "Silence Breakers" program at Hot Docs 2018.