Cannes Film Festival 2024: Wednesday, 15 May: Simon of the Mountain (2024) (Simón de la Montaña)

Simon of the Mountain, the feature debut of Federico Luis, intrigues you with its ambiguity as it follows the life of a disabled young adult.


by Alexa Dalby

Simon of the Mountain

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

At first, it seems that Lorenzo Ferro, the actor playing Simon, is doing too much to realistically portray someone with mental disabilities – overdoing the swaying head and the uncoordinated limbs. Ferro is a well-known Argentinian actor, singer and songwriter, who has sheared his trademark curls into a brutally close crew cut to play this role.

The film starts dramatically. As a storm breaks on a mountain, Simon is asked a series of questions to determine his mental capacity. (It is the same set of questions the psychiatrist asks later.) The group of mentally disabled young people he is part of on the mountain are stranded without a mobile signal or, it seems, their adult carers.

Ferro’s characterisation of Simon is ambiguous throughout. Simon says he is 22 and gives his unskilled occupation as mover’s assistant. He’s a newcomer to the group, trying to fit in. The group are friendly and have welcomed him, but he also seems apart from it and different from the others, perhaps more able.

He says he has lost the ‘disability certificate’ that he is frequently asked for to validate his identity as a disabled person. He starts wearing a hearing aid given to him by one of the group. He is befriended by another disabled group member, Pehuén ((Pehuén Pedie), who mentors him in how to convince bureaucrats that he is disabled to get his certificate and how to get free cinema tickets: he irresistibly recommends the mood-altering tablets he is on. In return, Simon shows him how to drive the group’s minibus.

Simon of the Mountain is a surprising film that deals in a sensitive and original way with the lives of disabled young people. It doesn’t patronise them: it shows they want the same things as other young people, such as sex, shockingly for some adults. This causes complications when they rehearse Romeo and Juliet and there’s a surprising revelation when Colo (Kiara Supini) decides she wants her first time having sex to be with Simon.

First-time feature director Federico Luis (Tachella) was a teacher’s assistant at a drama school for disabled people, and the film is inspired by his experiences. The film’s title is reminiscent of Buñuel’s Simon of the Desert.

The sound design at times is what Simon hears: the hearing aid amplifies extraneous sounds and distorts voices. The swaying hand-held camera contributes to mental disorientation and has the feel almost of a fly-on-the-wall documentary. As the film progresses we start to understand, as well as more about disabled young people, and although it isn’t explicit, more about what Simon is doing, though why is he? There’s no back story or hint of follow up. But his harassed mother (Laura Nevole) and his step-father (Agustin Toscano) don’t understand: Simon, in character, erupts with frustration. His motives are not made clear.

Simon of the Mountain premiered at Cannes in Semaine de la Critique on 15 May 2024 and screened also on 16 May. On 22 May it was awarded the Grand Prix of the Semaine de la Critique. It is distributed by Luxbox and represented by the PR Factory.

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