Goodbye Solo

a film by Ramin Bahrani

With obvious influential stylings from both the neorealist movement of post WWII Italy and the French Nouvelle Vague of the late fifties and early sixties, as well as director Ramin Bahrani's own ethnically-backgrounded national cinematic scene (though the US-born Irani-American Bahrani denies any influence whatsoever from his ancestral Persia) Goodbye Solo is a powerfully original and uniquely unpretentious American independent film from a filmmaker who is quickly becoming one of the best American directors in cinema today.

Along with his first two features, Man Push Cart and Chop Shop, Bahrani has stumbled his way into the much-argued-about quasi-film-movement known in some circles as neo-neorealism. Much like Hollywood at the start of the Great Depression, with its socially conscientious storytelling and prophetic soap-boxing, today's American independent cinema, in its own financial straights, has begun a movement that attempts to tell the tales of those on or below the accepted poverty line. This movement of sorts also includes filmmakers like Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy & Wendy and Lucy), So Yong Kim (Treeless Mountain), Lance Hammer (Ballast) and even perhaps Vincent Gallo (Brown Bunny), though that last one may be a stretch if I am to understand this so-called neo-neorealism at all.

Whether this is a conscious effort on the filmmakers part or mere coincidence due merely to the economic woes hitting just about everyone is still up for debate. Sometimes much heated debate (mostly started by the NYTimes' A.O. Scott in his opening essay about neo-neorealism). I personally think it mere coincidence, but coincidence predicated on the idea of mob mentality. Yes, that comment was meant to be quite tongue-in-cheek. Anyway, the early depression years also had a spate of fun loving escapist filmmaking from Astaire & Rogers to the Marx Brothers. Yet, real or imagined, nature or nurture, neo-neorealism, or whatever one wishes to call it, seems to be here to stay. But then, we are not here to talk of movements and film waves, but instead about one particular film - Goodbye Solo.

Bahrani's story abruptly begins mid-sentence in the cab of our titular protagonist played with a melancholy glee by Senegalese non-actor Souleymane Sy Savane. Solo is being paid to drive his passenger William, a begrizzled older man played by longtime character actor Red West, to a mountaintop where Solo is to return home alone. It is obvious, to us, to Solo, that William is planning on dying on said mountaintop. The brunt of Bahrani's film is Solo trying to figure out why. It is also about the eventual shaky friendship forged between the overly optimistic Solo and the angry, tired William. Beyond any ideas of class genre film movement, Bahrani's film rests on the emotional punch it delivers again and again and again throughout what is surely the filmmaker's best work yet. [06/15/09]