‘Simon Of The Mountain’ Review: Federico Luis’ Critics’ Week Winner Is A Wholly Original Debut – Cannes Film Festival

‘Simon Of The Mountain’ Review: Federico Luis’ Critics’ Week Winner Is A Wholly Original Debut – Cannes Film Festival

Simon has a strong twitch that drives him to shake his head, meaninglessly. He sometimes dribbles. The way he looks out at the world from under his brows, especially when people are talking to him, suggests he can’t quite keep up with what they’re saying. When he meets a group of young people from a local daycare center for the intellectually disabled, he naturally falls in with them. He befriends Pehuen Pedre (playing a version of himself) on the top of a mountain, where the group has walked and gotten into difficulties in high winds. When they all manage to get down and back on the bus, Simon gets on board with them. This is where he belongs. 

Simon of the Mountain, Argentinian director Federico Luis’ moving, puzzling and wholly original debut feature, which won the top prize at Critics’ Week in Cannes, is a callback to Luis Bunuel’s 1965 classic Simon of the Desert. Bunuel’s film, shot in Mexico, is an anti-clerical lampooning of a saintly ascetic, Simeon Stylites, who reputedly sat on top of a pillar in the desert for several years to show his devotion to God. Luis’ Simon is not devoted to anything, but he seems also to have chosen a path of denial.  

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What is wrong with Simon? His mother (Laura Nevole) alternates between telling him to snap out of it and imploring him to talk to her, to explain why he is doing this, why he has chosen to befriend these outsiders, why he is so belligerent. Her boyfriend Agustin (Agustin Toscano, also one of Luis’ two co-writers), who drives a moving truck for a living and is kind enough to employ erratic Simon, will not interfere.  

At first, Simon’s mother seems as wicked as the character of Satan who appears to tempt Bunuel’s Simon off his pillar. How could any mother be so cruel as to badger, mock and accuse a young man — he is 22, even if his petulance and impetuosity are typically childish forms of resistance – who has to live with disability in a uniformly able world? Is she simply ashamed of him? Summoned to the daycare center where Simon has settled in without actually being enrolled, she says she doesn’t understand what she’s doing there.  

And yet. And yet! When we see Simon on a home video as a little boy, he is romping with his father as Dad prompts his articulate toddler to spout lines from Hamlet. “Your head didn’t shake then,” observes Colo (Kiara Supini), his special friend from the center. “No, that was after the medication,” Simon mumbles. It is a catch-all excuse that should work. His new gang may live at a remove from the world, but chemical behavior modification is part of the currency of that sequestered existence. Colo clearly sees straight through this, but she shares with her friends the spontaneity that Simon clearly craves; she simply doesn’t care.  

Lorenzo Ferro is extraordinary as Simon. We learn almost nothing about his past; his future hangs in the air. There is only his present, throwing himself into crazy games with the daycare set, shyly letting adolescent Colo flirt with him while making it clear that he, at least, is not ready for sex, and going to the movies for free with Pehuen, who knows all the tricks (and indeed taught them to the director, who was a drama teacher in a center like the one in the film; Pehuen was one of his students). 

The hand-held camera follows Ferro closely; we never tire of his face, wondering what mood or expression will erupt next. It is still the face of that innocent little Hamlet. To be or not to be? Simon seems to have decided not to engage with slings, arrows or a sea of troubles. Instead, he remains on top of his pillar, perpetually coming of age. In the end, who can blame him? 

Title: Simon of the Mountain
Festival: Cannes (Critics’ Week)
Director: Federico Luis
Screenwriters: Federico Luis, Tomas Murphy, Agustin Toscano
Sales agent: Luxbox
Cast: Lorenzo Ferro, Kiara Supini, Pehuen Pedre 
Running time: 1 hr 38 min