Having established his reputation as a director with an eye for beauty and an understanding of light in 2009’s Signatures, director Nick Waggoner has blissfully elevated his game even further with his latest Solitaire.
As any regular viewer of action sports movies knows, ski movies usually identify the skiers on screen and compartmentalize their segments into personality branded affairs. This is in keeping with the usual ski movie purpose of being as much of a sports broadcast showing the development of the discipline as they are a stand-alone movie. Solitaire’s skiers remain pretty well anonymous except for the odd shot when their helmets are off and even then only their buddies, their moms and the hardcore fans will know who they are looking at. Solitaire’s position is not so much of a movie with an emphasis on the “sport” but more as a paen to the act of skiing, a lyrical, lovingly crafted motion picture of riders in motion. Waggoner’s is a gracefully executed film where light is funneled through the camera lens with a master craftsman’s level precision. The word “progression” is often bandied about in freeskier circles when referring to the development of skills and tricks. The progression here is not so much in the tricks or the runs but in capturing the vibe of the inner-space of the soul-skier. And as far as progression goes, hands down, Solitaire manages to convey this feeling, this headspace, on a level yet seen in ski action films.
This is a ski movie with a healthy ski-mountaineering component. The adventure naturally present in mountain climbing lends itself well to Solitaire’s narrative device that is derived from Joseph Conrad’s 1902 novella “Heart of Darkness”. Solitaire’s Spanish language narrator relays the journey of one man into the unknown, venturing into the wilderness seemingly for no purpose and for the biggest purpose of all, which is to find one’s personal limits, to test the bounds. Some of the shots in Peru of the climber setting off in the dark of the early morning, lit only by his headlamp are dramatically executed and set up a terrifically appropriate atmosphere given this Conradian theme. In reality, however, this reference to “Heart of Darkness” supplies only a surface touch, a starting point for Solitaire whose real focus is on adventure, both geographically and spiritually. Solitaire has none of the famous socio-political themes of Conrad’s novella: the indictment of the colonialist mindset and the dark actions of men when they’re unfettered by the strictures and rules of European society. And, more particularly, there’s no sense of the dimension of evil that Conrad ladled heavily onto his vision of a boat journey up the Congo River. That’s a good thing seeing as it would be awfully difficult to convey a sense of evil with shots of snow covered sheer mountain faces lit in the whites and blues of misty morning daylight.
Solitaire works like an epic poem, an ode to skiing, to mountaineering, to taking a chance and making an effort, to finding that strength within yourself that can only be found by you, to playing and winning that game of solitaire that skiing sometimes can be. By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail.