It is a difficult thing, to define yourself, to draw boundaries around yourself, and to establish relationships around yourself that don’t erase your identity and sense of self.
Solo, winner of the Best Canadian Feature Award at TIFF 2023, explores those difficulties through Simon (Théodore Pellerin) and his relationships to the people around him. His family. Her fellow drag queens. His toxic boyfriend. There’s no clean answer to the questions of how he can manoeuvre life for such answers don’t exist for any of us. But the thematic thoroughfare is the constant beating heart of this story and one that holds a universal lesson at its core for everyone.
Simon doesn’t really know how to exist as his own person. He has a heartbreaking relationship with his mother Claire (Anne-Marie Cadieux) in which his desire for self-respect is not even acknowledged in the face of craving the love and affection from her that isn’t entirely there. He has a relationship with his sister (Alice Moreault) that one could arguably call codependent as she designs Simon’s beautiful clothes for his shows. Simon’s relationship with her drag community seems to be the healthiest, but even there, there’s an undercurrent of Simon lacking a sense of surety that some of her peers in the performance collective possess.
But it’s his relationship with the handsome, suave Olivier (Félix Maritaud) that unmoors Simon completely. It starts off on, as the youth say, a red flag note and only proceeds to deteriorate from there. Simon is subsumed by the relationship–his entire self of self just breaks apart in its embrace and shadow, until there’s a moment of shattering realization that in fact is what had happened. Olivier senses what a lot of toxic, abusive partners recognize: someone who isn’t as confident in their skin as they think they are and they find in that insecurity the potential for control.
Many of us have been there. We have asked ourselves the same questions Simon has asked himself. We have latched onto the people in our lives as an extension of some part of ourselves we haven’t defined, haven’t grown comfortable with. We have lost ourselves in relationships as a way to fill an emptiness that another person on their own cannot fulfill. We have been lost in toxicity before we realize that we deserve better.
Artistry is strengthened, as an individual and as a part of a collective/community, when we have a better grasp of who we are and hopefully that is in Simon’s future. But more importantly, even on a human level, from one day to the next, it can be the most meaningful thing – to define oneself on one’s own terms. And Solo captures that beautifully.