Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ramin Bahrani's GOODBYE SOLO -- a big leap forward

Continuing his worthwhile exploration of today's immigrant experience in America, Ramin Bahrani (below) comes up with his best film so far -- GOODBYE SOLO -- giving us a fuller emotional experience, a deeper study of character and more technically proficient moviemaking. After Man Push Cart (in which an immigrant's big secret is revealed to little effect) and Chop Shop (the young immigrant here

is constantly running, rushing, working -- just to keep in place), Bahrani's latest quiets down and allows us to spend some time with an immigrant who is actually rather relaxed and learning to cope with our America.

Perhaps it helps that we are no longer in Manhattan or Queens, NY, where life tends to move fast. Instead, Bahrani sets his new film in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where the slower pace proves a boon to characters and viewers alike, as Solo, a Senegalese emigrant, now drives a taxi, earns a decent wage and is living with a strong-willed Mexican woman and her daughter. In fact, he's secure enough that he's studying hard to become a airline flight attendant. The initially improbable, but soon beautifully fleshed-out relationship that evolves between Solo and one of his fares -- an elderly fellow named William -- provides the motor for the movie, which chugs along, building up a nice head of steam (a little mystery and suspense, a lot of caring) as it moves toward an ending that satisfies even as it withholds.

The characters of the two leading men are at such odds, and both are played so well, that this produces a wonderful tension to the film. We appreciate and love Solo's kindliness, even as we come to understand and respect William's need for privacy. The movie occasionally comes close to allowing Solo to go too far, but fortunately Bahrami backs off in time. Souleymane Sy Savane (shown right, above and below, as Solo) makes his first screen appearance here, while Red West (shown left, above and below, as William) has more more than 80 film and TV roles under his belt. Both men could hardly be better, and the supporting actors register as equally true in less detailed roles.

Among the many things that Mr. Bahrami shows us (he's not the kind of moviemaker who explains) is that, yes, immigrants to our shores have much to gain from America. With each new Bahrami film, however, it becomes clearer that we have much to gain from them, as well.

Roadside Attractions is opening Goodbye Solo on Friday, March 27 at NYC's Angelika Film Center, with a limited-release, national rollout to follow.


GHJ - said...

Jim - I thought Man Push Cart was a brilliant, complex film, but Chop Shop felt like a forced, almost incomplete recycling of the same themes. Can't wait to see Goodbye Solo since Bahrani is definitely a key American director and it sounds like he's progressed quite a bit.

James van Maanen, said...

We're at opposition here, Glenn. Though I've liked all three of Bahrani's films that I've seen, for me they move in ascending order, with Man Push Cart, the least of the three. I felt the filmmaker withheld too much from us, which he's since stopped doing, particularly with Goodbye Solo. He still withholds, but he's learning WHAT to withhold in order to make a richer movie. Can't wait to see what you make of Solo. I'll keep a watch on your blog -- which has been a little less frequent lately, right? I miss those posts!

jim said...

I agree with James. Bahrani is just getting better and better. I saw Goodbye Solo at SXSW and am going to see it again at the Angelika. I also think he is learning how to reach a wider audience while still being very formal as a filmmaker. Did you guys read A.O. Scott's article about his films and realism?

GHJ - said...

Yes, the frequency of posts has been down this week, probably because I'm teaching three classes at one time...ouch! But I'll be posting more regularly starting today. I have a lot to catch up on, with Role Models, and re-watching classics like The Grapes of Wrath and La Strada.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, jim and Glenn (again). However we rate Bahrani's work specifcially, at least we can all agree that he's GOOD! And yes, jim, A.O.Scott's article was (as usual) worth reading and thinking about. There are all kinds of realism, I guess. Every filmmaker who does "real" seems to do it in his/her own way. The nice thing is, they're ALL real -- if you know what I mean. (Though I suppose some are more "real" than others....)