PORTLAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, REVIEW 5: GOODBYE SOLO
Goodbye Solo (USA; dir. Ramin Bahrani)
Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane), a Senegalese immigrant who drives a cab in North Carolina, takes an active interest in most of the people he picks up in his taxi, but when grouchy old William (Red West) offers him $1,000 to pick him up on a specific date and take him to the top of a mountain and leave him, Solo gets more sucked in than usual. William wants to go to Blowing Rock, a famous local attraction where the winds are so strong, anything that you toss over the side of the cliff will be blown back at you. Just what business does an old man like William have going up there? This is what Solo is determined to find out, and maybe once he knows, he'll also know how to stop it.
The latest from director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart), Goodbye Solo is a strange, contemplative drama that is more content to hang back and observe than to fully jump into the situation. This puts the audience in Solo's shoes, then, since we want to figure out what is going on but, just like him, we can't get past William's hardened defenses. There is a little bit of new American ambition in Solo, while William is symbolic of an America that has decided to pack it in. Unable to change, they resign themselves to fade away.
Ironically, some of America's worst tendencies are rubbing off on Solo. Though at first he complains that no one in the U.S. sticks by family the way they do in Senegal, when things start to go bad in his marriage, he heads for the door, leaving his pregnant wife (Carmen Leyva) and stepdaughter (Diana Franco Galindo) behind. He pushes his way into William's hotel room, forcing himself into a semblance of a new family situation, and he starts to dig in to what is bugging William enough for the old man to call it quits.
Which is the last thing that William wants, and the few things that Solo does find out only deepen the mystery--has he lied about not having kids? Why did his wife leave him thirty years prior? Is there a significance to his chosen suicide date? Is he even committing suicide or merely disappearing? Bahrani is determined to keep the questions hanging, however, and so the full portrait of William is never drawn. It's a pretty risky choice, and I imagine it will alienate some viewers. Personally, I think it may have kept me from being fully immersed in the movie. William's lack of communication not only cuts off our avenue to him, but his disinterest in Solo means we don't fully know the other man, either.
At the same time, Bahrani's defiance of Hollywood narrative expectation in the climax is the perfect choice, avoiding giving easy answers to hard questions. There is a suggestion that William has connected with Solo and his stepdaughter more than he has let on, and his presence appears to have put Solo back on track rather than contributing to his derailment. Both Savane and West are excellent in their roles, achieving a directness and naturalism that lends credibility to the realistic tones of Bahrani's scripting. Goodbye Solo may not entirely satisfy at first blush, but the effect of it lingers, forcing those who accept it to ponder what has transpired and search for what it means to them.
Goodbye Solo plays on 2/17. - PIFF's website at the NW Film Center
Current Soundtrack: Morrissey, "Because Of My Poor Education/Shame is the Name"
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All text (c) 2009 Jamie S. Rich