Quebec director Sophie Dupuis has found her voice.
So says Theodore Pellerin, the Boy Erased and Beau is Afraid actor who has starred front and center in Dupuis’s three movies to date, Solo being her latest after Chien de Garde (Family First) and Souterrain (Underground).
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And 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 after a coveted gala world premiere on the first weekend of Toronto Film Festival.
“Theodore told me, ‘I think for the first time you were talking about yourself,’ because he knows me and could say that,” Dupuis told The Hollywood Reporter after Pellerin, a close friend and frequent collaborator, read the script for Solo, her gender-bending queer romance drama.
The stylish French language indie has Dupuis’ signature energy and verve onscreen as Pellerin plays Simon, a rising star in the Montreal drag queen scene, both in stage lights and at home where he’s a makeup artist. He has to simultaneously endure two toxic and demeaning relationships — one with Olivier, a passionate drag artist and domineering lover played by French actor Felix Maritaud; and the other with his cold and distant mother (Anne-Marie Cadeaux), a famous opera singer who returns to his life after a 15-year absence and insists he work around her busy schedule to reconnect.
Weakened by his emotional dependency on an abusive partner and an estranged mother, Simon eventually has to decide what’s best for his own life and heart, before his ambition to become a drag star risks being destroyed.
Dupuis, it turns out, is on her own journey of self-discovery, as reflected in her latest movie and its screenplay as life mirrors art. “In Solo, he [Pellerin] saw I’m really starting to liberate myself from all life’s norms, every norm that poisoned my adult life, starting from affirming myself as queer to my way of being in relationships, love relationships, the connection I have more with my feelings after I gave myself this permission,” she insisted.
Solo also opens Canadian cinema to the world of the drag queen universe, which in the hands of Dupuis’ camera floats between reality and heightened fantasy, a task made easier by working with actors experienced in the performance art. “They know how to create a character. They can entertain a crowd. They know how to be funny. They have so many skills to be great drag queens. It’s a rich art, made richer when you include their activism, by allowing them in my film to take the microphone and say things about their community,” she explained.
As a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Dupuis has learned much about drag queens onstage with their fantasy world characters that allow them to face down challenges and often discrimination in their own lives. “With Simon, sometimes he needs his drag character to find his strength. I wanted to talk about that, the fact that some drag artists say their drag personas saved their lives,” she told THR.
At the same time, beyond Simon’s sequins, wild wigs and lip-synch performances, Pellerin’s character offstage is made to plumb the depths of despair in Solo, before he gets the chance to restart life afresh as the film ends. “I made him suffer a lot to bring him there. That’s a path I often take in my writing,” Dupuis reveals.
Besides creating a safe space on set as the cameras rolled by ensuring a host of queer talent both in front and behind the camera, Dupuis was keen to ensure the drag show audiences in Solo were always cheering on their queer peers, without prejudice or violence.
“When you’re queer, you need to find your people. And when you are telling your story, the audience is not watching and listening for curiosity, because it’s new to them. They’re watching and listening because they know where you’re coming from,” the director said.
Solo will have its world premiere at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 11, followed a day later with a second public screening at the Scotiabank Theatre.
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