Goodbye Solo

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 September, 2009, 12:00am

Goodbye Solo
Souleymane Sy Savane, Red West, Diana Franco Galindo
Director: Ramin Bahrani

Ramin Bahrani is just 34, but he's already served on Venice Film Festival's jury and has seen his work the subject of a retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art. It's not hard to see why. His films may mostly revolve around people on the margins of American society, but they never sensationalise their tribulations for the sake of melodrama. He matches subtle storytelling with measured mise-en-scene, which keeps viewers engaged but never conveys the tension through bombastic visuals and sound.

Goodbye Solo is less a piece of cinema verite than Bahrani's previous films, Man Push Cart (about a Pakistani musician who sells coffee in Manhattan) and Chop Shop (which revolves around a boy's struggle to care for himself and his wayward sister in a junk yard in Queens, New York). There's more of a deliberate narrative this time, the North Carolina-set story being about Senegalese-born cabbie Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) trying to revitalise the life of William (Red West, above with Savane), a lonely man who's given up on life and is seeking to end it by asking Solo to take him - on a one-way trip - to a deserted hilltop in two week's time.

Without the usual character-building preludes, the film begins with the pair in Solo's taxi, talking about William's appointment - with the cabbie soon realising what the pensioner's plans are. Though having enough struggles with his own life - his efforts to land a job as a flight attendant, a perfect fit for someone who speaks 14 languages and is indiscriminately courteous, are frowned upon by his pregnant Latino wife - Solo appoints himself to steer William away from his depression and possibly his end.

Great understated performances from Savane and West provide the driving force, but it's Bahrani's direction that clinches it: the tension between the pair is handled deftly, with their relationship never following convention. And even if much is left unresolved, the emotional engagement is there, as the pair's tortured psyches are laid bare through the anguish they have passed through. That a lot of these things are never explicitly shown or said adds to the film's power.

Extras: Commentary with Bahrani, deleted scenes.