By James Keller
It’s a familiar narrative. The social issues, with people around judging and defining. The family issues, with the denial, rejection and disappointment. The intimacy issues, trying to find and maintain a romantic relationship. The personal issues, the inner struggles and conflicts.
Solo, the documentary directed by and following the life of Atif Siddiqi, a gay man who has never before had a relationship with another man, tries to personalize the focus of these issues.
Homosexuality is almost secondary to the discussion in Solo, as it should be. The real issues here are Siddiqi’s problems with social interaction and intimacy which, although often fueled by other issues that complement homosexuality, could be seen in anyoneÂ: gay, straight or otherwise. This gives the very specialized topic appeal to a wider audience, letting everyone first identify with Siddiqi’s problems, whether it’s fear of rejection or a poor self image, and then understand them on his terms: as a homosexual apprehensively trying to buy into the gay singles market.
The film follows Siddiqi through day-to-day personal interaction, through video-taped therapy sessions and on a few dates. In between, Siddiqi offers insight into the problems he faces and the issues that may hold him back. Solo gives a taste of Siddiqi’s romantic life (or lack thereof), with a play-by-play interjected by everyone around him, from his friends and colleagues to his Muslim parents.
The interviews with his parents paint a clear picture of the root of some of his problems finding and keeping men. His family encourages him to choose the “straight path,” and tells him that Allah originally made him “normal.” They maintain, much to the obvious dismay of the subject, that he is not “actively gay.” This is coupled with religious battles, as the teachings of Islam are contrasted with Siddiqi’s lifestyle. This provides an extra piece of the puzzle, another problem standing in the way of happiness and a “normal” life.
While the film and its light-hearted attitude offer a charming and insightful examination with a good mix of serious introspection, Siddiqi is too self-conscious a filmmaker, often slipping into self-indulgence–possibly inevitable when the filmmaker is documenting himself. This causes the meaning to be lost, as the film focuses too much on specifics and not enough on bigger issues, like how homosexuality affects these problems and, more generally, how these problems affect homosexuals rather than straight singles. While it might have pushed the film over the hour mark, more focus on these issues would have vastly improved Solo, making a nice documentary into an intelligent and thoughtful analysis.
While Solo is the work of a slightly immature and novice filmmaker, it makes some good points and provides a nice, albeit superficial, look into relationship problems facing a gay male. Unfortunately, it fails to cut deep enough or explore the issues in enough depth to truly do the topic justice.