Solo Show


Ramin Bahrani, Goodbye Solo, 2008, stills from a color film in 35 mm, 105 minutes.

RAMIN BAHRANI’S FILMS examine quotidian ebbs and flows and are quiet but potent meditations on the human drive to merely persevere. Man Push Cart (2005) records the hourly and daily routines of a food-cart operator in New York. Chop Shop (2007) captures the brilliant energy of an adolescent struggling to work his way out of a sprawling junkyard in Queens. Bahrani’s latest work, Goodbye Solo, is his most harrowing yarn yet, a humorous and haunting examination of unconditional (and unrequited) love.

In all his films, the director has shown a keen fascination with the unexpected, tenuous connections that rouse people from their daydreams. Goodbye Solo follows a taxi driver in North Carolina named Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) who fortuitously banters with William (Red West), a fading, irascible old-timer, one night in his cab. William offers the Senegalese immigrant a sizable sum if, in a few weeks, he will agree to drive him to a cliff in a nearby state park. It’s a not-too-subtle announcement of an impending suicide, and Solo’s concern for the old man leads him to forge an unlikely friendship in a bid to show his customer all he has to live for.

As played by Savane, Solo is an effervescent and charismatic free spirit, an ebullient life of the party who single-handedly propels the story. He bickers with his wife, but in a loving way. He tells anyone who will listen about his dream of one day working as a flight attendant, but in the meantime he remains determined to be the best taxi driver in town. Bahrani has a knack for casting fierce and indelible personalities in his movies, and his stories are dependent on characters who seem larger than their lives would indicate. Once again, in Goodbye Solo, Bahrani’s lens pushes in close, probing an unlikely and frequently humorous tug-of-war between two men while seeking to understand what makes these characters––one an introvert, one an extrovert––tick.

There’s a claustrophobic feel to his approach, an airtight quality that initially suggests his films are about hopeless figures in intractable situations. Yet whether it’s a food cart operator saving money to buy his own cart, a child in a chop shop who dreams of a brighter future, or a cab driver struggling to love a man who refuses to love himself, Bahrani is an unswerving advocate for can-do spirits. He’s inspired by the struggle, not the victory, and one can easily envision an elderly Solo, still reaching out to anyone in need of a lift.

Goodbye Solo opens March 27 at the Angelika Film Center in New York. For more details, click here. The film also opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on April 3 and BAM Rose Cinemas on April 10.

S. James Snyder