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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2020 Zabaltegi-Tabakalera

Review: Simon Calls

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- Marta Sousa Ribeiro’s first full-length feature explores the labyrinth of adolescence, switching up formats to portray the chaos, confusion and yearning of this transitional stage of life

Review: Simon Calls
Simon Langlois in Simon Calls

Daring, vibrant and stimulating as always, the Zabaltegi-Tabakalera section at the 68th San Sebastián International Film Festival seems like a natural home for Simon Calls [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, the début feature from Portuguese director Marta Sousa Ribeiro. This unorthodox cinematic gem draws on the talents of not one but three directors of photography — Manuel Pinho Braga, Guilherme Daniel and Víctor Ferreira — to choreograph the mashup of formats and time frames deployed over its run time.

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With a powerful score composed by Raimundo Carvalho adding poignancy to the narrative, the film takes us back to the whirlwind of adolescence — that confusing, harrowing yet wonderful stage that shuttles us to adulthood. Sousa Ribeiro has constructed something of a cinematic puzzle, interspersed with images of homeless teens from North American documentaries. It centres around the Simon of the title, the child of separated parents (with whom he has an unstable and looping relationship) and older brother to a prickly sister. Simon, like any young person in the 21st century, spends a lot of his time immersed in a virtual world.

The story, which unfolds in unconventional style, follows Simon as he navigates the end of the school year, woefully unprepared for his imminent exams and under pressure from his mother to broach the subject with his father. But where is this boy, really? Off on imaginary journeys? Perhaps dreaming of a seemingly unattainable freedom? Or just lost in his own nonlinear mental timeline?

Filmed in three stages (in 2015, 2017 and 2019) in a compressed version of the method adopted by Richard Linklater in Boyhood, Simon Calls was originally conceived as a short, but ended up evolving into a male perspective on the director’s own childhood, as she herself acknowledges. The finished film is brimming with moments of asphyxiation, unhinged imagination and oppression, beautifully evoked by the combination of narrow formats and close camera work.

Above all, Simon Calls — written by the director herself in collaboration with lead actor Simon Langlois and containing many incidents based on real experiences — aims to offer an insight into how adolescents see themselves (as opposed to how they are seen by adults). In doing so, it highlights the overwhelming influence of the online world on such crucial aspects of their existence as clothes and hair, and explores young people’s real desires, yearnings and dreams.

Sousa Ribeiro (Lisbon, 1992) is the director of short films Yellowblueblackyellow, Four Floors and Why Not Circles Instead of Squares, an animated film co-directed with Joana Peralta. In 2014, Sousa Ribeiro, Peralta and Pedro Cabeleira formed the production company Videolotion (which produced Simon Calls). Their first full-length film was unveiled in 2017: Damned Summer [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Pedro Cabeleira
film profile
]
, directed by Cabeleira. The film was awarded a Special Mention in the Filmmakers of the Present section at the Locarno International Film Festival. The following year, Videolotion produced the online series Subsolo, featuring one episode, Júlia, directed by Sousa Ribeiro. In 2019, she and Peralta co-directed an episode of the children’s animated series, Cubs.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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