A Moment from Goodbye Solo

One of the frustrating downsides of living in Boston is when the public transportation stops running and you are forced to take a cab. Last night was one of those nights when I missed the last T by a millisecond, had to put my stubbornness aside and take a taxi. This cab ride ended up making my night because of the resemblance it had to Goodbye Solo, Ramin Bahrani’s 2008 film about a Senegalese cab driver in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

Goodbye Solo is one of the three independent films my senior thesis examined and this film has a very special place in my understanding of American film. I have spent hours, days, weeks analyzing scenes from this movie, only learning to love it more the more often I watched it.

Solo, the protagonist in Goodbye Solo, is a Senegalese immigrant searching for his American dream. He is married with a sassy stepdaughter and a baby on the way. (His son’s birth cements Solo’s status as an American citizen.) He dreams of leaving his taxi behind and becoming a flight attendant, an aspiration dripping in symbolism. Solo’s life is turned upside down when he meets William, a cantankerous elderly man who asks Solo to drive him one way to Blowing Rock, a place entrenched in North Carolina legend.

Solo suspects that William wants to commit suicide and decides to show William kindness and the greatest aspects of life in an attempt to prevent his decision. Solo introduces William to his family and his friends. The two men develop an odd-couple relationship that builds from contempt to a mutual respect that is so touching that the final sequence, set at Blowing Rock, is absolutely heartbreaking in what it does and doesn’t reveal to us about what will happen to these two characters we come adore.

Solo is in infallible character and, in my opinion, he is one the best to emerge from American cinema in the past decade. His spirit and passion for life is contagious. This is how director Bahrani intended Solo to be read and appreciated by viewers. When he began production on Goodbye Solo, Bahrani saw an overwhelming number of depressing films and documentaries about the Iraq War and the general state of the country. He saw the need for a character who could inspire audiences and remind them of the goodness of the human spirit.

For me, having watched Goodbye Solo more times than you can even imagine, just thinking about Solo or being reminded of him in any capacity makes me beyond happy. That is why when I set foot in a cab where the driver was a real-life Solo, exuding the same charisma as this fictional character, my night was made and my bitterness over having to take a taxi in the first place washed away.

It is moments like this one reinforce that why I love the cinema more than anything else and why, if I am lucky, I can find my way back to studying it one day. Movies have this unparalleled way of finding their way into your life. Stories, characters, performances, scenes – everything on the screen – has a way of only enhancing the banality of the real world. A seemingly mundane cab ride, meant to take me from point A to point B, become something special. That’s the magic of cinema and why movies are just wonderful.

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Bahrani and Herzog: My Favorite Things

Having just completed my thesis (!), it is time that I shared this short film. Directed by Ramin  Bahrani, Plastic Bag features Werner Herzog as the voice of a plastic bag that goes on a journey. I know. It sounds ridiculous. But if there is one thing I have learned about Bahrani during my research on Goodbye Solo, he is brilliant. In this film he has taken one of the most recognizable voices in cinema and create a beautiful and poignant work.

Plastic Bag has been circulating on the internet for a few weeks now. It is a great short. Check it out here:

Here I Go: Thesis Away

Months ago I posted that I was writing a senior honors thesis on film. At the time, I didn’t know what it would be on. But after months of deliberation I finally figured out, more or less, what I am researching: American Identity in post-9/11 American Independent Cinema. (Sometimes I wonder if this topic makes me sound way more intelligent than I really am, but I digress.)

I am focusing on three films: Frozen River (2008), In Between Days (2006), and Goodbye Solo (2008). On the surface, these three films seem completely unrelated but what I have found that they are linked by a foremost a common character and narrative: the immigrant. This films question how American identity and the American Creed are changing in the twenty first century as a result of immigration. Or at least, that is what I am trying to show.

Here are the trailers for Frozen River and Goodbye Solo:

And here is an interview with filmmakers So Yong Kim and Bradley Rust Gray. The more I research their work, the more I admire their dedication to independent filmmaking as a way to produce quality and exceptional stories and works of art.

It’s Thesis Time

Now that I’m back from Cannes, I am going to let you in on my grand plan for the remainder of the summer. I am officially a senior at Mount Holyoke, I can start work on my senior thesis. So this summer I will be doing nothing but academic research…and maybe I’ll find a job.

My tentative plan is write about post 9/11 American film. I will be using my free time this summer to narrow down that broad category into something worth writing about. I plan on blogging about the films I see and articles I read, so be prepared for that. For Cinephiles by a Cinefille is about to become the most non-academic academic blog on the web.

Maybe.

The Neo-Neo Realism Debate

Last Sunday, A.O Scott wrote what I found to be an intriguing article on Neo-Neo Realism, films directed by emerging American filmmakers. Here is an excerpt:

What kind of movies do we need now? It’s a question that seems to arise almost automatically in times of crisis. It was repeatedly posed in the swirl of post-9/11 anxiety and confusion, and the consensus answer, at least among studio executives and the entertainment journalists who transcribe their insights, was that, in the wake of such unimaginable horror, we needed fantasy, comedy, heroism. In practice, the response turned out to be a little more complicated — some angry political documentaries and earnest wartime melodramas made it into movie theaters during the Bush years, and a lot of commercial spectacles arrived somber in mood and heavy with subtext— but such exceptions did little to dent the conventional wisdom.

Goodbye Solo (2008, dir. Ramin Bahrani)
In response to this article, Richard Brody, an editor at the New Yorker, presented 8 reasons why he disagrees with Scott’s arguments regarding neo-neo realism fall flat. Here is an excerpt:

“Neo-Neo Realism,” A. O. Scott’s piece in the Sunday New York Times Magazine (and already online), about a new trend in American independent filmmaking, offers lots to think about. His argument is based mainly on the recent films Wendy and Lucy, Ballast, and Frozen River, as well as the films of Ramin Bahrani (whose Goodbye Solo will be released on March 27), made on location in diverse American locations, about working-class characters, sometimes using non-professional actors. These are films made skillfully and sincerely under difficult circumstances; they are, in many ways, admirable. But I think that Scott makes a little too much of them. His ambitious article ranges widely over the history of cinema; I think it rests on questionable premises and reaches dubious conclusions.

Frozen River (dir. Courtney Hunt, 2008)

His numbered list of eight objections, running to more than 1,000 words, was meant to demonstrate that my essay “rests on questionable premises and reaches dubious conclusions.” This is Mr. Brody’s way of saying that he and I like different movies, and that he wishes I had not paid so much attention to Wendy and Lucy, Ballast and the films of Ramin Bahrani, director of Man Push Cart, Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo. (For some reason, he also twice makes mention of Frozen River, which is not discussed in my article.) He would rather I had discussed Gran Torino, Frownland and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

This whole debate, for me at least, is amazing. I love it when two people engage in intellectual banter. I personally agree with A.O Scott, but many people in addition to Brody find flaws in his article. What are your thoughts on neo-neo realism and on this debate?