DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
GOODBYE SOLO (director/writer: Ramin Bahrani; screenwriter: Bahareh Azimi; cinematographer: Michael Simmonds; editor: Ramin Bahrani; music: M. Lo; cast: Souleymane Sy Savane (Solo), Red West (William), Diana Franco Galindo (Alex), Carmen Leyva (Quiera), Lane Williams (Roc), Mamadou (Mamadou), Jamill 'Peaches' Fowler (Pork Chop, taxi dispatcher); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jason Orans/Mr. Bahrani; Roadside Attractions; 2008-in English)

 
"It's an American film that looks like an arty European film, and I mean that as a sincere compliment."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Again talented Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani ("Man Push Cart"/"Chop Shop"), in his third American independent film, documents with great simpatico first-generation immigrants on the margins of society. This is a suicide tale, about death with dignity, that involves a dour 70-year-old local Southern 'good ole boy' white man, William (Red West), depressed and ready to call it quits, and a talkative middle-aged black Senegalese taxi driver with an irrepressible smile and a caring nature for others despite some of the hardships he's facing, who thinks suicide isn't the way to go. The two opposites, dwelling in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, form a difficult and improbable relationship, as William hires Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane, first-time actor) as his driver and offers $1,000 to drive him to a remote mountain tourist location called Blowing Rock in two weeks and not drive him back. The area reportedly is such a windy place that at the top the snow will be blown back to the sky. Solo tries to prevent the suicide by cheering up his new friend and introducing him to his family, but the taciturn, gruff, loner has built an impenetrable wall around himself and won't let anyone in. It reminded me of the great 1997 Iranian film by Abbas Kiarostami "A Taste of Cherry," as it follows the same premise but lacks the depth of that near masterpiece.

It's a tale of two people adrift in the world heading in different directions, that is profound in its observations of the ever-changing American scene. The elderly man's dream has petered out to the point it has no more spark and the other's dream of career success is what keeps him going, even if it takes him around bends he's not familiar with. Through the eyes of the cabbie the filmmaker explores in a straightforward earnest way the torch being passed onto an evolving multi-racial America, where the face of the country is changing at a very fast pace. In this case, with a begrudging amount of respect on both sides as each tries in their own way to get to know something about the other (though William is too closed to see much).

Solo is married to his second wife Quiera (Carmen Leyva), a Mexican, who is pregnant with his child, and is a loving stepfather to the perky, inquisitive ten-year-old girl Alex (Diana Franco Galindo). Solo's wife is the only character who doesn't jell, she's undeveloped and seems more like a plot device than a real person. On the other hand, the little girl is so genuine, that in her small supporting role she seems almost as meaningful to the story as the two leads.

Not content working the last three years as a cabbie at night, Solo aspires to be a flight attendant and is studying hard for the upcoming test despite no encouragement from his wife. All we learn about William, or Big Dog as Solo likes to affectionately call him, is that his wife left him thirty years ago and he has a grandson who works as a box-office ticket-taker in the local movie house who doesn't know about William. 

Without feeding us sentimentality or giving us pat responses about immigrants navigating the American dream, Bahrani does not take one wrong turn as he keeps things ambiguous and non-judgmental allowing us to think for ourselves as we ride along with the cabbie in the seedy parts of Winston-Salem during these lush two weeks in October. Bahrani gives us a lot of things to chew on about understanding ourselves as well as others that stays with us long after we left the theater, but doesn't give us enough to answer all the unanswered questions hinted at. It's an American film that looks like an arty European film, and I mean that as a sincere compliment.

REVIEWED ON 6/27/2009       GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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