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French-Canadian filmmaker Sophie Dupuis’ Solo is a testimony of the richness of lgbtq+ media in today’s drag world. While this may look like a market that has gone too far particularly with HBO’s We’re Here currently in its fourth season and the long-running RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise, there is no doubt it offers a grittier alternative to what it feels like being a performer in drag. It does indeed offer all the razzmatazz one would expect from drag queens but beneath that is a sensitive artist struggling to find his way out of this harsh world.

The cast includes Théodore Pellerin who plays Simon, an up-and-coming star on the Montreal drag scene. Onstage, Simon is Glory Gore, a goddess whose stunning attire – made by his sister Maude (Alice Moreault) –is matched by her ability to command attention from those watching. However, offstage he remains unsure of himself and still searching for who he wants to be as an artist. Things take a turn when he enters into an intense relationship with another dragger named Olivier (Félix Maritaud), and meanwhile, Claire (Anne-Marie Cadieux), his mother, comes back after 15 years performing opera in Europe.

Solo echoes back to New Queer Cinema’s golden age —a period during the early 1990s when independent filmmaking focused on LGBTQ+ stories, characters and issues. By drawing from political and cultural phenomena such as AIDS epidemic or Ronald Reagan ’s conservative administration or promoting more representation of gay community members on screen New Queer Cinema films were inherently angry , defiant , unapologetic instead they were deeply human beings . Actually one of their biggest aims was revealing much more about queer lives so films from this period were highly individualistic where they concentrated on how different their LGBTQ+ protagonists were (and therefore cast/crew).

It’s underground filmmaking but not in the ways that it is felt like a cheap movie; rather, Dupuis uses highly naturalistic techniques. She loves a bit of spontaneity and airiness which can make realism come across on screen. What’s more, there is a sense of disclosure in every actor’s performance, as this increases the complexity of situations they find themselves in.

Even the smaller roles are given space and importance because of Dupuis’ writing – no wonder she’s found her way into the forefront of Quebec’s film industry. Pellerin does an excellent job with his portrayal of Simon though; he makes Solo work so well for just being him. He seems wounded and pitiable yet furious and explosive at some point such that one can notice which worlds Simon carries over here and there on his back, something which Pellerin makes no mistake about at any single instant.

Cédric Quenneville is another reason why Solo is brought to life as its costume designer who demonstrates his fashion skill especially when dealing with drag numbers. It’s easy to differentiate one character from another by what they wear but it becomes an entirely different (and massive) task when it comes to drag queens each having their own aesthetic, brand or style. And still Mathieu Laverdière manages to capture all this beauty of drag art through his camera lens never failing to see light and life within a steel-gray Montreal winter.

Solo opens in U.S. cinemas at a time when homophobic, transphobic, bigoted and general anti-drag speech, demonstrations and violence are more widespread than ever before throughout the nation. In its current form, drag art is an inherently political statement whether by the performer or the audience supporting it. While Solo (smartly) didn’t try too hard as a political vehicle there’s evidence that Dupuis understands the bigger picture in which her film is set.

Still, Dupuis gives us a good perception of Simon life as varied: stunning- as if she were some goddess- on stage; pining for love, perhaps desperate for it; sometimes doubting his worth; but still resolute about his artistic dreams. Though this story may cover the same old ground when considering Simon’s coming-of-age as an artist (künstlerroman), it doesn’t mean that it becomes less satisfying or has any less of an emotional punch.

Ultimately, Solo validates every artist’s life whether it be Simon’s journey as a drag queen, Maude’s career in costume designing or Claire’s selfishness while seeking greatness. Be it in terms of drag or even journalism and film criticism (and whatever other creative sectors that may be at stake), this movie tells us that the creative spirit inside never dies no matter how much external forces work against its flow.

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