Tuesday, May 03, 2016
Directed and edited by Ramin Bahrani and written by Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi, Goodbye Solo is the story of a Senegalese cab driver working in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where he befriends a depressed old man. The film is an exploration of friendship and alienation in a world that is increasingly demanding and modern where two men go into a personal journey. Starring Souleymane Sy Savane, Diana Franco Galindo, and Red West. Goodbye Solo is a mesmerizing and heartfelt film from Ramin Bahrani.
A Senegalese cab driver is asked by an old man to drive him to Blowing Rock, North Carolina on a specific day as it’s the day the man has chose to die. The cab driver is confused by this demand but is willing to do it as he eventually befriends this depressed old man who seems to have been lost in the world. It’s a film that explores an unlikely friendship between this immigrant who is trying to make a better life for himself but also try to get to know this old man. The film’s screenplay by Ramin Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi is quite minimalist as it immediately begins with this cab driver in Solo (Soulemayne Sy Savane) who reluctantly takes money from this old man named William (Red West) as Solo knows he needs the money but is confused by William’s request.
The film takes place in the span of two weeks in Winston-Salem as it explores Solo trying to see if William would change his mind by introducing to his family. Even to the point where William would be happy but it wouldn’t last as there isn’t much for William to offer to the world which has passed him by. For Solo, he’s working to become a flight attendant as William would help him study for the test and pass as it’s Solo trying to prove that he can do more than just be a cab driver for his wife. Another source of optimism that would be helpful for both Solo and William is the former’s stepdaughter Alex (Diana Franco Galindo) whom the latter would also befriend despite his reluctance to open up.
Bahrani’s direction is definitely ravishing for not just the minimalist approach to the story but also setting it almost entirely in Winston-Salem as it is a character into the film. It’s a city that is this melting pot of not just immigrants whether they’re from Africa or Latin America but also a land that is also filled with people who are born in the South. Much of the compositions for the city are shot with a sense of intimacy and realistic approach with very little wide shots in favor of medium shots as it relates to the characters in the film. Bahrani’s usage of close-ups and medium shots for much of the scenes set in the cabs as well as scenes to show the lives of Solo and William play into that sense of intimacy. Also serving as editor, Bahrani’s approach is very straightforward where it’s more about capturing what is going on and just let the camera play things out on a take instead of cutting from one perspective and to another.
Bahrani’s compositions would instead have his actors be framed where one would be in the foreground and the other in the background to get a sense of how Solo is trying to connect with William or William trying to distance himself from Solo. It adds to the realities of their situations where Solo would face his own reality in the third act as he also a child coming into the world and the possibility that he might not succeed in becoming a flight attendant. The realities would lead to this climax at Blowing Rock which is this mystical gorge where the wind blow below from the forest against this gorge. If one was to drop something into the gorge, the wind would fly it up in the air as it becomes the centerpiece of the film where Solo would see something that couldn’t be explained as it also provides an ambiguity into his own experience. Overall, Bahrani creates a riveting and evocative film about two different men befriending each other for a personal journey.
Cinematographer Michael Simmonds does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography as it has this very natural feel to the way many of the daytime interior/exteriors are presented including the scenes at Blowing Rock while using some lights for the film‘s interiors at night. Production designer Chad Keith and art director Adam Willis do nice work with the some of the minimal set pieces from the home that Solo lives in as well as the motel that William would stay in. Sound designer Abigail Savage does superb work with the sound as it play into the natural aspects of some of the film‘s locations including how music is heard on a radio or something as well as the naturalistic world of Blowing Rock. The film’s music by M. Lo. is wonderful as it is very low-key with its mixture of folk and ambient as it only plays in the final credits while music supervisor Joe Rudge create a soundtrack that is essentially music that is being played on a radio or from afar as it is a mixture of hip-hop, reggae, world music, rock, and country.
The film’s amazing cast include some notable small roles from Carmen Leyva as Solo’s wife Quiera, Mamadou Lam as a fellow cab driver, and. Lane “Roc” Williams as a passenger friend of Solo. Diana Franco Galindo is fantastic as Solo’s stepdaughter Alex who is full of life and energy as she manages to win over William while being someone who can get Solo to do things. Red West is great as William as this old man that is coping with a lot as he wants to end his life where he reluctantly befriends Solo as he still ponders about whether to end his life and see if he still has something to offer. Finally, there’s Soulemayne Sy Savane in an incredible performance as Solo as this hopeful and upbeat cab driver that is determined to make a better life for himself as he also befriends this old man where he tries to cheer him up and see that there are reasons to live no matter how hard life can be.
Goodbye Solo is a spectacular film from Ramin Bahrani. Featuring a great cast, a simple yet compelling premise, gorgeous visuals, and themes of loneliness and struggle. It’s a film that manages to be so much more in its simple premise while displaying something is very American in its realistic yet evocative setting. In the end, Goodbye Solo is a tremendous film from Ramin Bahrani.
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