The already daring scenario of a male schoolteacher in love with one of his boy students breaks further conventions with rich formal experimentation in Kan Lume and Loo Zihan’s silent indie film, “Solos.” Yanked from a premiere slot in the Singapore festival when state authorities demanded severe cuts of sexual content, gorgeous pic has gone on to a healthy fest launch at Pusan and AFI, with best long-term niche prospects as a gay/art vid curio.
Kan and Loo are straddling the 19th century of early silent films and the 21st century with its franker screen depictions of gay sexuality. Auds and critics demanding standard dramatics and linear storytelling will consider “Solos” intolerable, while those eager to sniff out trailblazers in world cinema will be thrilled. It’s hard to think of a recent work on the fest scene that so clearly separates detractors from fans.In a series of static shots at medium distance, pic establishes a cool but erotically tense mood between a teacher (Lim Yu-Beng) and his prized pupil (Loo). Their furtive couplings come at the expense of the lad’s mother (Goh Guat Kian), seen fretting over his long absences but unable to force him to stay at home.
Along with several extended scenes — which maintain visual objectivity while conveying the three characters’ subjective mental states — are interludes that lend “Solos” a droll air, similar to Tsai Ming-liang’s films observing urbanites in absurd situations. Depiction of Lim and Loo in a classroom setting — albeit one set in a forest — is one of these, while another involves the mother and a robotic vacuum that seems to have a mind of its own.
The film’s achievement lies in its ability to imply complex entanglements and shifting emotional states without a shred of language. Seeming to recover cinema’s original syntax, pic plays out in purely physical terms (and not just erotically), even at times like a dance performance — including some stunning moments of choreography with dancer Chew Peishan.
Kan and Loo serve as co-lensers (and co-editors with Meghan Kan), crafting vid images of exceptional clarity in both black-and-white and ultra-desaturated color (with a few color accents for dramatic effect). Darren Ng’s intensely moody music and sound design are seamlessly one, giving the film an uncommon audio dimension.
Perhaps most surprising is that a work so concerned with aesthetic impact resolves on a note of such simple humanity.