Solo provides a claustrophobic real-life account of determination and resilience, but it works better in that sense than as a character study.
Hugo Stuven’s Solo debuts on Netflix today, and you have to imagine that idle searches for Solo: A Star Wars Story, which also arrives on the streaming platform this month, might court an accidental audience for the Spanish drama. Otherwise known as Alone in certain parts of the world, the title should clue you in to the kind of man-against-the-elements-and-himself picture that we’re dealing with here; a real-life account reminiscent of 127 Hours and 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain. Luckily it’s a bit better than that last one.
Alain Hernández plays Álvaro Vizcaíno, a surfer who, in 2014, slipped while walking on the side of a dune near Punta Paloma beach, on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, and spent two days in a cove after falling from a cliff. Hernández makes a notable physical effort to keep his character’s suffering credible, while Stuven takes great pleasure in filming the ordeal with a mind for the brutality of the landscape. A lot about the film is technically impressive, especially its early moments.
What lets Solo down is how it embraces overly sentimental melodramatics whenever it attempts to delve into who Vizcaíno is. Stuven and his co-writer, Santiago Lallana, get introspective in a way that feels obvious and tiresome rather than insightful, and it’s a burden on an otherwise riveting survival story. Meditations on the nature of solitude and individualism, particularly in how they relate to contemporary expectations of lifestyle, aren’t uninteresting on their face, but they’re so superficial here – despite the charming presence of Aura Garrido – that they ultimately serve as a distraction from Vizcaíno’s ordeal, not an enrichment of it.
Still, there’s a clear market for the kind of story that Solo wishes to tell, and for the most part it tells that story with enthusiasm and a fair degree of technical skill. A leaner, more focused film would have likely got the message across clearer, without the need for so much self-examination, but when human beings are often able to go to such lengths in order to survive, perhaps there’s value in trying to work out what they’re living for.