‘Solo’: Film Review

Courtesy of Seacuatico
Affecting, but a little too minor-key

Guillermo Rocamora’s debut about a trumpeting midlifer has taken several awards at Latin American fests.

Solo is a minor-key, quietly rewarding drama about a military trumpeter trying to eke out some unlikely passion from his life. As melancholy and taciturn as its highly watchable hero but — like him — possessing an undertow of passion that refuses to be still, Guillermo Rocamora’s debut atmospherically follows the line of some of Uruguayan cinema’s better-received achievements over the last few years, among them Pablo Stoll's and Juan Pablo Rebella’s Whisky and Daniel Hendler’s Norberto’s Deadline.

Solo has been accompanied by various awards on the Lat Am circuit, and suggests that wider exposure may follow for Rocamora.

Awkward, introverted and 40-something (read: midlife crisis) Nelson Almada (Enrique Bastos, an appealing screen presence, also debuting here) is a trumpeter in the Uruguayan Air Force orchestra. Music is his life, but he seems to enjoy himself more when the orchestra lets down its hair, ups the beat and plays lively Colombian cumbia at local fiestas.

In the rest of Nelson’s life, things ain’t got rhythm. His silent, sexually detached marriage to Nelly (Claudia Cantero) has gone off the boil, and about half an hour in she suddenly walks out on him, leaving him in the company of his ailing mother, Esther (Marilu Marini), and her housekeeper, Beba (Rita Terranova).

A songwriting competition offers Nelson the chance to escape from all this, and his progress through it continues, accompanied by guitarist Silva (Fabian Silva), until he’s selected to perform at an army base in Antarctica, meaning he’ll miss the final of the competition.

Despite all the pathos, the jutting-jawed Bastos has a stone-face comic appeal to him as well, which gives the film a fair sprinkling of absurdist comedy. Nelson’s uniform seems slightly too large, his features generally good at communicating his bafflement at the world with the minimum of facial movement. Both Nelson and his film are sometimes too short on dialogue, with several scenes feeling light on verbal expression: A viewer can only do so much work in figuring out what’s happening behind a character’s eyeballs, and placing so much emphasis on facial reactions can look like scripting laziness. The approach is typical of the film's quietness, which sometimes feels asphyxiating.

The multiple meanings of the title are not always played out elegantly. When Nelson and Beba are watching a documentary about a disoriented penguin walking suicidally to its death, it feels obvious, but when Nelson is asked to play his contest song and mumbles “I can’t play it alone,” it works. When he does sing his song — a song actually composed by Bastos, which is obvious from his commitment as he sings — his life suddenly becomes major key: It’s here, at the intersection between music as institution and music as personal expression, that the film's emotional heart is located.

Visuals are carefully composed, evocative of the cramped interiors and muted tones of Nelson’s personal and interior lives: the fish tank, the scooter parked in the hallway.

Production company: Seacuatico, Volya Films, Rio Rojo
Cast: Enrique Bastos, Fabian Silva, Bartolo Aguilar, Claudia Cantero, Rita Terranova, Marilu Marini
Director: Guillermo Rocamora
Screenwriters: Guillermo Rocamora, Javier Palleiro
Executive producers: Javier Palleiro, Gaston Rothschild, Denis Vaslin
Director of photography: Barbara Alvarez
Production designer: Mariana Urriza
Editor: Juan Ignacio Fernandez, Guillermo Rocamora
Composer: Alejandro Franov
Sales: Primer Plano Film Group

No rating, 87 minutes