Credit: Music Box Films
by Zachary Goldkind Featured Film Horizon Line

Solo — Sophie Dupuis

May 22, 2024

Shorthand as a methodology of narrative semiotics is not an inherently troubled strategy through which to divulge information, especially as it regards intimate relationships on screen. However, acceptance of this approach can only go so far, as such subjective understandings of our own codes can only be extrapolated within reason as to be indicative of our lived experiences, shared ciphers that exist and articulate the private rather than public. Shorthand has often been utilized occupationally, as well, providing language to a collection of individuals with shared vocation. As this extends into the popular, its meaning need be flattened as to account for a universality in cultural wisdom. The specificity of profession, the distinctions that inform idiosyncrasy — the private life and its codes — must become shared and diluted of this exactitude in order to engage with wider demographics: the gesticulation that distinguished silent film is a suitable example of this semiotic evolution. This shorthand would extend from vaudeville, itself extending from the archetypal caricatures that we can historically trace through hundreds of years in theatrical performance, from Europe to Japan to India. Translating this form of characterization to contemporary character-drama, protagonist-based narrativity is where the weight and capacity of these methodologies collapse in on themselves. What could be described as lazy is arguably simply uncritical and unprepared, a faculty of accelerated sensibilities that most especially plague intimate Canadian dramas, culminating in mechanical contradiction, anonymity, and hapless transparency.

Sophie Dupuis’ Solo is the latest celebrated Canadian feature from the director, a study of individual dynamism that unfortunately gets caught in an axiomatic and mitigated binary between self-affirmation and self-negation. Starring a very affected Théodore Pellerin as drag-queen Glory Gore — Simon, offstage — we observe the processes of self-destruction as Simon grows volatile, oppressed, and preoccupied by two variations of emotionally fraught and abusive relationships: his DARVO-oriented narcissist of a boyfriend in Félix Maritaud’s one-note Olivier, and his estranged mother, Claire (Anne-Marie Cadieux), a renowned opera singer. Their neglect of him is schematic and overtly underdeveloped, this ailment most notable through a bustling montage that foregoes the patience and contemplation that such turmoil needs in order to develop. On top of this, the work’s formal prowess is lacking — handheld shot-reverse shot uniformly overwhelms the project from first to final frame — ensuring that images cannot, themselves, articulate these character passions. But the film’s core issue is that there’s no desire to investigate the dynamics of self-perception, the follies of choices and the consequences that unfurl through the relationships we hold close. We receive only the slightest of admissions from Solo, the most performative of reconciliations. Ultimately, what we get is merely the shorthand of contemporary dramatic arcs, gestures toward certain ideas of the intimacy in psychological contamination, all without ever having to participate in any elucidation of them. Every potential dialogue that could be had between characters which might address the delicacy of personal turbulence is instead cut away from, the gist of the matter more or less substantiated by our position within the formula of three acts. What happens in the ellipses between scenes seems persistently of greater import and consequence, but we have no access to these interstices. It’s by merit of simple plot progression that the film constructs its lucidity; not dissimilar to the shabby skeleton, rotting away in the corner of an elementary science class, teaching students about anatomy.

All of which is to say, an adherence to the shorthand of elevator pitch workshops means Solo feels too anonymous, going so far as to even have its protagonist spike the lens as to signal their instantaneous self-reconciliation after a slew of inconclusive and capricious sequences that try desperately to stitch together a final act. The unrest of Simon is, here, presented simply as vacant spectacle, as a banal representation of communities that have been marginalized for so long; their images reified into jejune classical machinations which, in totality, diminish both protagonist and peripheral environment. The shorthand used throughout Solo flattens all, reducing its subjects to signifiers who exists solely to trigger the Pavlovian responses of audiences who have the most base understanding of 101 story structure. This approach seems a kind of placation, a likely unintended condescension that our market circumstances have engendered. Filmmakers should be more thoughtfully reflexive of these means of production, but with Solo, Dupuis has, frustratingly, left us high and dry.

DIRECTOR: Sophie Dupuis;  CAST: Théodore Pellerin, Félix Maritaud, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Vlad Alexis;  DISTRIBUTOR: Music Box Films;  IN THEATERS: May 24;  RUNTIME: May 24