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Federico Luis Simon of the Mountain Review

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Simon of the Mountain | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

Simon of the Mountain | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

The Face of An(other): Luis Complicates Identity Politics

Federico Luis Simon of the Mountain Review Although it’s playing quite purposefully with various ambiguities and motifs, Federico Luis’ directorial debut Simon de la montaña (Simon of the Mountain) is most successful at obscuring the usual cliches of identity exploration. Its title recalls Luis Bunuel’s religious themed 1965 short film “Simon of the Desert,” and there are some comparable allusions to temptation and forsakenness in some of the minor metaphorical moments explored. But Luis instead aims to challenge perceptions of what’s culturally acceptable in not only the crafting of an identity, but also the construction of community through an inverse scenario, i.e., through the relinquishing of perceived privileges as a way for belonging and fulfillment. Told with an intimate tenderness, rising Argentinian actor Lorenzo Ferro stars as the titular character choosing a controversial path towards personal fulfillment.

Simon (Ferro) is answering a series of questions about himself and his skill sets by Pehuen (Pehuen Pedie), somewhere in the desert. Both young men appear to be people with disabilities, and it seems Simon is undergoing an initiation to join a group, stating his age, occupation and experiences with daily chores like sweeping and making the bed. He claims to be twenty-one years of age and a mover’s assistant, but their interview is cut off by a windstorm, and Pehuen tries to rally together a coterie of others out in the desert with them, all driven to the feet of a statue of Christ, seemingly abandoned by the adults who should be watching them.

The narrative cuts to the two young men at a local community center, where they interact with a handful of other people with disabilities. Simon, who claims he has lost his disability card, is the newest member of the group, currently rehearsing for a production of Romeo and Juliet. A young woman has a crush on Pehuen, guiding him into the women’s restroom for a sexual experience, with Simon as a lookout. But they are apprehended, and their parents are called. When Simon’s mother shows up, she appears to be confused about why her son is there. And it would appear he is pretending to be disabled to be a part of this community, where he also becomes affectionate with another young woman.

Federico Luis Simon of the Mountain Review

While Simon’s mother and step father can’t quite figure out what’s going on (and frustratingly don’t seem able to ask the right questions), he continues his attendance at the center so he can stay connected with Pehuen. It appears Simon is imitating Pehuen’s physical characteristics, who also tells Simon what he must say in order to obtain a disability card. They take more risks together, driving away with several other kids from the center, and Simon’s actions, of course, result in a formidable confrontation with his guardians.

Federico Luis Simon de la montana

Ferro is quite impressive, especially for those who can compare his work here to the El Angel (2018), in which he quite effectively played a notorious serial killer. Luis interestingly, and perhaps wisely, steers clear of providing any definite information about Simon prior to this current experience, as it’s clear he believes he’s found a sense of kinship which he previously didn’t feel before. The enigmatic opening sequence is bookended by the same ritual, albeit in a much more familiar environment, where much of the same information is repeated. There’s obviously an unavoidable discomfort here, more like Rachel Dolezal than John Howard Griffin’s Civil Rights era experimental skin pigmentation exercise documented in Black Like Me (1964), where a privileged identity is eschewed for inclusion within a community which will forever be inauthentic if detected. The sacrifice for such an act usually results in social pariah status on all sides. The future for Simon is as inscrutable as his past.

Reviewed on May 15th at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival – Critics’ Week. 98 Mins.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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