Due to its checkered history, Lebanon has become synonymous with conflict and heartache. In an attempt to face up to this past, a number of films have been produced. However, very few have dove into the dark days with an added element of comedy. Lebanese writer and director Sophie Boutros, with Jordanian writer and producer Nadia Eliewat, have taken up this challenge with Sophie’s first feature film, “Solitaire”.

“Solitaire” tells the story of Therese, who lives in the Lebanese mountains and is haunted by the memory of her dead brother who was killed by a Syrian bomb during the Lebanese Civil War. As a way of holding on to her memories of him, Therese talks to his photos, which in turn talk back. The day on which the film takes place, a suitor and his parents arrive to ask for her daughter’s hand in marriage. When it turns out that the suitor and his parents are Syrian, Therese is determined to stop the engagement, while still remaining the every graceful Arab host. For director Sophie, “The main theme is prejudice and the grudges and hatred that can blind you from the truth. For me it’s really important to highlight the resemblance [between people] and build on it, rather than the differences.”

For a film about death, the grim past and the grief that divide people, this is still a comedy. Sophie explains that most of the comedic elements come from the “photos on the fridge, in the corridor, and in the family room that talk back. They scheme and think. These photos are a character themselves, but they also reflect what’s going on inside the head of the main protagonist, and how she is seeing things and planning the day. This gives the film a social comedy aspect.” “Solitaire” doesn’t try to confront war or deal with its macabre nature. It only deals with the circumstances of the story.

The project started as a short film, until Sophie and Nadia realised that there was enough to make it into a feature length film. It was their first attempt at a feature, after having plenty of success directing commercials, television shows and music videos. Both Sophie and Nadia live in Dubai where they teach at the American University, but returned to Lebanon to shoot the film, with a predominately Lebanese crew. For Sophie, taking this leap from television and music videos was both enjoyable, and made easier by the crew that surrounded her. “It’s such a joy. Not only the creation of this piece, but also the gathering of so many creative minds…all striving to make this a successful project.”

The film was produced through Sophie’s Beirut-based company, Jam Production, along with Nadia’s Jordanian production house, Screen Project, in collaboration with ART who were the film’s co-producers. As part of the production team, In-House Films Dubai acted as associate producer and Sabine Sidawi and Jinane Dagher from Orjouane Productions did the line producing. The duo met Sabine when their project was shortlisted at the Torino Film Lab Producers and Writers Workshop in 2013, who was there as a tutor.
Financing for the film came from several sources. They received support from three different investors in Lebanon, and were also sponsored by Damas Jewelry, who created a special design for the film.

Solitaire is being screened as part of the Cannes Market, and the team is hoping to secure sales agents and spots at film festivals across the world. “It’s really exciting for us. I’ve never been to Cannes and I’m really looking forward to seeing how things go. We have really appreciated the support from Fondation Liban Cinema and it’s a way for us to be part of this adventure with the other Lebanese films”, says Sophie.

by Hugo Goodridge