What's the deal with Simon (Simon Langlois)? Why is he so glum? Does he not like school? Is he bullied? Is he bad at his studies? Is he pissed because his family is not so wealthy? Maybe, his sadness has something to do with the divorce of his parents. Does he miss his dad? Why, then, does he not call him? Is he angry at him or his mom as they got separated? Perhaps, it all has to do with him being a teenager. The hormones combined with his current condition might be the reason behind him looking so adrift. Occasionally, we see clips of homeless children being interviewed about their plight. Simon may have a roof over his head, but he is as lost as those kids on the streets.
The review starts with questions because that's all you ask while watching this film. Simon Calls spends so much time with Simon, and yet we don't really get to know him. Something tells me he's not good at studies, though I cannot say this with a guarantee. What I can vouch for is the fact that Simon smokes and drinks. He buys alcohol from a shop, contacts a friend, and gulps down the bottle on a building's roof.
Simon and that friend have plans to go to the US. They see the foreign land as their ticket to freedom. But what are they running from, exactly? What makes them feel trapped in their homes or their country? Simon Calls is so vague that it's not so easy to fill in the blanks. It provides us with a sense of something, but you are never able to put your finger on it.
This world, these characters, stay at arm's length. What job does Simon's mother, Rita (Rita Martins), do? In one scene, Mariana (Mariana Achega) mentions something about Rita completing some scenes. Is she an actress? What is writer-director Marta Sousa Ribeiro trying to do here? She does not change the names of most of her actors (Langlois is Simon, Achega is Mariana, and Martins is Rita). Is she transferring the thoughts of the actors to the experiences of their respective characters? That sounds like an interesting experiment and clears up the doubt regarding Rita's profession (actress).
But an interesting experiment does not necessarily translate into an interesting film. The problem with Simon Calls is that it's introverted. A wall stands between the movie and the audience, and we never penetrate this barrier. The characters look like blurry figures moving in the distance. There are moments when the screen turns into a small box (cue interpretations telling us how the box means the characters are trapped). This choice, after a while, feels less artistic and more annoying. The best thing about Simon Calls is that it stops after 1 hour and 23 minutes. For some, even this may seem like a lot of time.
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