Solo: The Show Must Go On
By Maurie Alioff – Québec Correspondent
(September 11, 2023 – Toronto ON) As I write, one of the hottest entries in TIFF 2023 is Sophie Dupuis’ Solo, which dives into the agonies and ecstasies of a young drag queen performer. To be released in Québec on September 16, the movie is Dupuis’s follow-up to her award-winning Chien de garde (Family First), which was Canada’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar 2019 competition.
Like Chien de garde, Solo confronts the viewer with a marginal reality, but is at heart explosive family drama. As in the previous film, Théodore Pellerin (pictured above) plays the lead with uncoiled power. In Chien, he’s a sadistic enforcer who terrorizes victims and beats them senseless. At the same time, he loves his family unconditionally, especially his mother who plays mock lover with him.
For Solo, Pellerin pulls off a spectacular switch from an exuberantly nasty punk out of Clockwork Orange to a drag queen devoted to her performance skills. Simon does share an acute mother love with Vincent, but in his case it’s sadly unrequited.
Probably influenced by P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights and maybe even Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls, Solo flips back and forth between its drag artists backstage and onstage. Backstage, they swagger around in their skimpy costumes, bantering, gossiping, and dissing each other while they apply makeup and fine tune their look. On stage, Dupuis keeps the dreamy chorography and pumped up energy coming. Simon is clearly a rising star with his kinetic dance movies and lip synching stars like Donna Summers. We get interesting glimpses of straight young women, fans of the queens, a subculture onto themselves. “They come to laugh at the fags,” laughs one of the drag scenes.
Dupuis brings up the movie on music, blasting the screen with her high energy visuals. Then Solo cuts to a quiet domestic scene. Simon’s sister (Alice Moreault) is appalled he hasn’t showered. He bares an armpit and cracks, “Take it all in, honey.” The movie follows this pattern of operatic, hyper-dramatic, ironic drag show biz and an unfolding narrative closer to daily life.
Contrary to what the audience might expect, the picture’s tensions don’t come from clichéd family disapproval of Simon’s artistic and life choices. His sister has just made a beautiful dress for him. He basks in familial warmth. Tension does get triggered by Simon’s problematic relationship with a handsome and charismatic drag performer called Olivier (French actor Felix Maritaud). At first the relationship is passionate and sweetly romantic: intimate, tenderly acted love scenes between Simon and Oli on a dance floor, in gently falling snow. But eventually, probably inevitably the relationship goes into Oli’s manipulation and emotional abuse.
Even more painful is the impact of Simon’s absent mother, a major opera star (Anne-Marie Cadieux). Simon’s longing for her love and her detachment drives the narrative. In a painfully intimate moment, he says to her “You don’t love me.” He seems to be facing his reality. Claire’s impassiveness says he’s right.
Cadieux offers a measured, subtle performance. Claire is self-assured and friendly on the surface, offering champagne, showing interest in Simon’s career. But there is the subtext of a vacuum. She is not nasty, or condescending. However she harms her son without going all Joan Crawford with her alleged coat hangers.
Sophie Dupuis has already been named a director to watch. As the movie was launched at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Hollywood Reporter is raving: “She has solid promise to follow Denis Villeneuve and the late Jean-Marc Vallée as one of the top creative voices out of French-speaking Quebec.”
Solo has its final screening today at 3:30pm at Scotiabank Theatre.
Maurie Alioff is a film journalist, critic, screenwriter and media columnist. He has written for radio and television and taught screenwriting at Montreal’s Vanier College. A former editor for Cinema Canada and Take One, as well as other magazines, he is affiliated with the Quebec media industry publication, CTVM.Info. His articles have appeared in various publications, including Canadian Cinematographer, POV Magazine, and The New York Times. He is the Québec Correspondent for northernstars.ca.