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by Peter Knegt
March 27, 2009 2:35 AM
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Round Up: Ramin Bahrani's "Goodbye Solo"

A scene from Ramin Bahrani's "Goodbye Solo." Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

"'Goodbye Solo' is my third feature film," "Solo" director Ramin Bahrani explains in a first-person article for indieWIRE. "The story is about Solo, a young, friendly Senegalese taxi driver in Winston-Salem, NC who is hired by an elderly, Southern Caucasian man named William, to take him in two weeks to a mountain top where Solo believes the old man plans to jump to his death. Solo decides to charm his way into this stranger’s life and change his mind before the two weeks are up."

Bahrani goes on to dissect an iW-exclusive clip from the film, the film's opening scene. "My collaborators and I wanted an opening scene that would really grab and charm the audience right from the start and make them want to watch the rest of the film," he said. "I hope we got it right—and don’t arrive late to the cinema or you will miss the scene on the big screen."

Judging from all the glowing reviews, it seems as though the consensus is overwhelming yes, Bahrani did get it right.

"What each one takes from the other is not spelled out and does not need to be," The New York Times' A.O. Scott says of "Solo." "Because grace is also what defines Mr. Bahrani’s filmmaking. I can’t think of anything else to call the quality of exquisite attention, wry humor and wide-awake intelligence that informs every frame of this almost perfect film."

Roger Ebert seconds that admiration (and, it seems, Scott's recent "neo-neo" Times' article): "A film like this makes me wonder if we are coming to the end of the facile, snarky indie films. We live in desperate times. We are ready to respond to films that ask that question. How do you live in this world? Bahrani knows all about flashy camera work, tricky shots, visual stunts. He teaches film at Columbia. But like his fellow North Carolinian, David Gordon Green, he is drawn to a more level gaze, to a film at the service of its characters and their world. Wherever you live, when this film opens, it will be the best film in town."

In truth, there are not any negative reviews of "Solo" currently circulating the web.

The A.V. Club's review by Scott Tobias is not entirely positive, though the only criticism he can muster is that "Solo" is not quite as "revelatory" as Bahrani's previous work, "Chop Shop," though it still "continues his persistent, sympathetic documentation of first-generation immigrants on the margins of society." Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf, too, offers a - relative to Scott and Ebert - less overwhelmed response: "If you taste cherries, specifically Kiarostami’s cab-bound A Taste of Cherry, then you’ll know the only critical reservation here is one of overfamiliarity... The movie flirts with a dark idea: Maybe this taxi driver is exactly the wrong savior. Then again, saviors are figments of fiction; Goodbye Solo feels cut from stronger stuff."

indieWIRE's own review, from Reverse Shot writer Jeff Reichert criticizes the very opening shot Bahrani discusses in the aforementioned piece: "It’s a pleasant, well-balanced ride throughout, even if Bahrani hurts “Goodbye Solo” somewhat by opening too quickly; we’re thrown so immediately into the narrative (literally mid-conversation) that the gravity of William’s death wish is less something deeply felt than inferred and goosed along by the necessities of narrative. Still, it’s an admirable gambit, one that makes me further respect him as a filmmaker even as I find his film somewhat less successful as a result." But Reichert remains won over, calling the film's "windswept finale" "cinema of the truest sort."

But overall, from Slate's Dana Stevens ("A film of great intelligence and quiet assurance, Goodbye Solo exhilarates without ever trafficking in easy uplift.") to New York's David Edelstein ("The black man who represents the life force, who tries to revive the white person’s spirit, could be so Driving Miss Daisy, so Bagger Vance. It isn’t: The abyss is always visible.") to The Village Voice's Scott Foundas ("Bahrani possesses a disciplined sense of composition and form, a vision of the world that extends beyond the boundaries of his own navel, and the understanding that it is possible to make films about class and race in this country without pandering to the audience."), this film certainly seems destined to become one of the most critically acclaimed offerings of 2009.

I can't imagine it not being on indieWIRE blogger Michael Tully's top ten list. His passionate review for Hammer To Nail writes: "Goodbye Solo marks the graduation of Ramin Bahrani from one of American independent cinema’s most accomplished voices to one of the most accomplished voices in American cinema, period. In a time of universal concern and worry, Bahrani has given us a character that confronts his troubles head on and rebukes his sorrows with a smile. It’s a lesson we all need to learn. Especially now."

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1 Comment

  • MattLucas | March 29, 2009 11:39 AMReply

    I've been pushing this film hard at my own blog for the last few weeks. It's the best film I've seen so far in 09, and holds a special place in my heart as it was filmed in and around where I live.

    This is Bahrani's finest work and I'm glad it's getting the attention and praise it deserves.