A realistic but smartly stylized portrayal of the selfishness of love, Solos narrates the tale of a 15-year-old (Loo Zihan, below right) consumed by a torrid first love affair with his thirtysomething high school teacher (Lim Yu-Beng, below left), and the pained, smothering affection of a mother who fears her son will never return to her. Solos is a naked and brave story for young Singapore co-director Loo to tell in a country where homosexuality is not even legal — banned in his home country, and withdrawn from the Singapore International Film Festival after the nation’s censors demanded that graphic scenes of homosexual lovemaking be cut. But Solos is a daring film not just in subject matter, for it runs against most of the current trends of modern cinema. With no dialogue, no moving camera, long takes and few edits, the story is told through only sound and body language, resulting in a powerfully elemental work that makes one lean forward in nervous anticipation.
Co-directed by Loo and Kan Lume, Solos was an official selection at a dozen major gay and lesbian film festivals over the past several years, and enjoyed its American premiere at AFI Fest in 2007, where Variety‘s Bob Koehler rightly praised the film’s “ability to imply complex entanglements and shifting emotional states without a shred of language.” It’s a big swing for the fences, the radically low-fi telling of an experiential story like this, and it doesn’t work if the filmmakers’ artistic chops aren’t up to snuff. Here, they are, thankfully.
Shot in deep focus black-and-white, with a few moments of desaturated color thrown in for emotional effect, Solos is totally different in subject matter, but reminiscent of the quiet hold of movies like The Story of the Weeping Camel, or Jacqueline Condinotti’s experimental Rivets, America. Although it’s a film that shifts back and forth between
reality and surrealism, the unifying factor underlying them is the depth of emotions expressed by the characters, and in this regard Solos is able to sustain a grip on an open-minded audience’s attention, once they submit to its rhythms. Aided by Darren Ng’s sound design and moody musical compositions, Loo and Kan convey — in a way that music captures much more frequently than film — the heady swirl of love, and in fact long passages of their work have the same sort of energy that marks the erotic, breathy, full-bodied tension of a pre-sexual encounter.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Solos comes to DVD presented in 16×9 widescreen, and spread across two region-free discs. Supplemental features consist of a clutch of deleted scenes and, running 100 minutes, two separate conversations between multi-hyphenate Loo Zihan and Sir Ian McKellen and John Cameron Mitchell, both fans of the movie. These long-form chats reflect quite positively upon each McKellan and Mitchell, revealing plenty of insight about not only the vocabulary of filmmaking, but also their own coming-out stories, encounters with prejudice, and other personal experiences as gay men, both inside and outside of Hollywood. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B+ (Movie) A- (Disc)