Friday, May 29, 2009

The American Movie Goodbye Solo Conveys Truth and Beauty in the Best Tradition of Iranian Film-Making

I’ve been meaning to highlight this film for quite some time now. I saw it with my friend Joan weeks ago, and it’s definitely a “must-see.”

Indeed, Goodbye Solo has a quality, a beauty, that I found incredibly moving. It’s a deeply spiritual film, one that explores such weighty subjects as community, family, alienation, and suicide; and, in so doing, generates what theologian John Dixon terms “the fatal questions”: How am I related to the other? How should I be related to the other?Goodbye Solo offers no easy answers - especially within the context of the story that it depicts. Yet it inspires nonetheless.

The film basically tells the story of an unlikely friendship that develops between two very different men in Winston-Salem, an economically depressed town in North Carolina. Solo (played by Souléymane Sy Savané) is a Senegalese-born taxi driver who is offered a large sum of money by the haggard and jaded William (Red West), if, in two weeks time, he drives William – one-way – to a remote look-out known as Blowing Rock. It’s immediately clear that William plans to kill himself. The film then proceeds to explore the growing friendship between the two men, and Solo’s efforts to immerse William into life so that he won’t go through with his suicide plan. To say any more would give too much away. Just trust me and see this film. You won’t be disappointed.

Following is the trailer for Goodbye Solo.

Stanley Kauffmann, in his insightful review of Goodbye Solo in the May 6 issue of The New Republic, asserts that the film, “along with other distinctions . . . is the first Iranian film made in North Carolina.”

He says this not just because the film’s director
Ramin Bahrani was “born in Winston-Salem in 1975 to Iranian parents, grew up there, and after taking a degree at Columbia University went to Iran for three years,” but because Goodbye Solo aspires to the realm of the great Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami.

“In fact,” says Kauffmann, “Bahrani [pictured at right] invites us to compare him with [Kiarostami]. He is not, or not yet, at that level, but his reference is not presumptuous.”

Here’s what Kauffmann has to say about that special quality of a certain type of Iranian film and how this special quality is conveyed in Bahrani’s beautiful Goodbye Solo:

Iran makes many kinds of films, but in the United States and some other countries the Iranian films that have registered and that remain precious – chiefly those of Abbas Kiavostami – are concerned with large matters of spirit, values in life, even in death. People in those films are in a profoundly contradictory state. On the one hand, they see every day as another day to be dealt with in ways that lie at hand; but they also see every day as a means to weigh the worth of their lives they are living. Hovering over them all is commonality – a linkage with everyone they meet, a sense that they are all bound in a destiny that, no matter what, can be bourne in fellowship. Allow for some exceptions, and we can say that, whatever their station, they live both seriously and humbly.

Kiarostami is no tractarian: he is an artist who has fashioned a distinctive style, without arrant virtuosity. He uses heterodox simplification that asks mature simplicity from us. Time as a presence, quiet, heartbeats and pulses, are constant. We are convinced that these films deal with matters that would exist whether or not the camera was there but that the camera is there for our sake.

All these hallmarks have been adapted by Bahrani for [Goodbye Solo] . . . Overall in spirit and being, he connects with his Iranian legacy because, even at his relatively young age, his work seems to fit a comment that the critic Gilberto Perez wrote about Kiarostami: “Kiarostami believes in beauty as he believes in truth, not as a conclusion but as an understanding.” Modestly yet deeply, Goodbye Solo moves the understanding forward.

. . . [Souléymane Sy Savané] makes Solo ebullient without being aggressive. Life hums in him. He is not unshakably cheery: there are some raspy bits with a drug dealer he knows. But every cell in his body seems eager for William’s reversal. And there is a paradox: Solo seems to understand how a man could come to William’s decision, but not how he could act on it.

Bahrani is too gifted to let his film become a set of discussions. We move like fascinated companions through those two weeks full of incidents, trifles, small mysteries: dailiness. William – a notable these days – smokes a great deal. He goes to the movies a lot (and there is a hint that he is somehow connected with a youthful ticket-seller who doesn’t know him). The overall effect of Goodbye Solo is of living through a drama of huge subjects, articulated in the vernacular. Then, in a manner that is both expected and surprising, the end of the film confirms the need for the film.

Recommended Off-site Link:
In Goodbye Solo, Two Lives Converge at the Intersection of Life, Death
- Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, April 17, 2009).

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