Sophie Boutros' Solitaire, a drama that deals with the family tensions that arise over the marriage plans of a Syrian groom and his Lebanese bride, releases in cinemas across the UAE this weekend following a successful premiere at last December's Dubai International Film Festival.
Boutros, who teaches script writing and production at Abu Dhabi University following a successful 11-year stint in TV and music video production, is herself Lebanese, though she insists the film is not a personal story as such.
“It talks more generally about the complex relationships between Lebanon and Syria,” she says. “They’re two societies with a lot in common, but also a lot of baggage. There’s a real love/hate relationship there. It’s inspired by stories of people we know, but not directly personal.”
The film was initially planned as a short, however Boutros says that as the characters became more complex during the writing process, she realised a feature would be needed to do justice to the story.
Of course, deciding to make a feature and actually delivering one to cinemas are two vastly different things, but the director and co-writer was undeterred.
“We didn’t even think about financing and all of that initially, just focused on script before we even worried about it,” she says. “Once we did get to financing, we focused hard on how we could do it on a sensible budget as otherwise we could have waited five more years to produce it. We were lucky as we had three Lebanese investors who really believed in the story, ART came on board too and Damas, who designed the solitaire in the film and also contributed.”
The presence of ART on the production team was a huge bonus to Boutros — with a major broadcaster on board, the film was already guaranteed TV screenings, and ART has also taken on broadcast sales rights. The dilemma of how to get the film in front of audiences was thus partly solved in advance.
For Boutros, however, a cinema release was still a must: “From the outset we were determined to have a commercial release, which we’ve thankfully achieved,” she says. “The film is already in cinemas across Lebanon, where it is currently second at the box office after Beauty and the Beast. Syria is obviously a limited market right now but we’re releasing in Damascus, and a wide release is scheduled for the UAE and Jordan. We always wanted it to be a film for audiences.”
The film itself may deal specifically with the relationship between Lebanon and its next door neighbour, but its tale of cultural clashes could potentially have huge relevance in a multi-cultural society such as the UAE too.
“I think the story we’re telling applies to so many other entities in this region and beyond,” Boutros concurs. “The world has become a village and we all know about each other from the other side of the world, but do we really care what’s happening around the world when we don’t even care about our neighbours? It’s a universal story because it sometimes seems that the closer together the world becomes, the more divided we become. We didn’t set out to preach or blame, but I really think there are universal themes in the film.”
Solitaire is in cinemas from today.