Thursday, December 10, 2009
The New Great American Director?
Recently, I finally got a chance to see Goodbye Solo, the third movie from director Ramin Bahrani. Like both of his previous films, Chop Shop and Man Push Cart, it’s gotten rave reviews from all the major critics, including Roger Ebert, who proclaimed Bahrani “the new great American director” in the intro to this excellent interview from March of this year.
Whether or not Bahrani is going to go down as a pioneering filmmaker is too early to say, but Goodbye Solo certainly isn’t going to hurt his chances. Like Chop Shop, it’s a marvelously realized movie that attaches the heaviest of implications to what might seem like a small, simple story. It’s all buoyed by a mesmerizing performance from Souleymane Sy Savane as the title character, an immigrant cab driver who forms an unlikely friendship with an embittered old man, played by (no kidding) former Elvis bodyguard Red West.
There’s certainly no denying Bahrani has only gotten more accomplished with each movie he’s made, and after only three films he’s already established a recognizable style and set of preoccupations. Watching Goodbye Solo I kept thinking of the final scene in Dirty Pretty Things, another movie that followed the plight of immigrants, in which Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character describes himself and others like him as “the people you don’t see.” That seems as concise a definition as any of the kinds of films Bahrani makes. He follows food cart operators, poor families, and cab drivers, and finds in their stories the kind of poetry that usually only shows up in the work of other so-called “great” directors like Herzog and Bresson.
The most interesting thing about Bahrani is that he’s built his reputation solely on his brilliance as a storyteller. Usually, the young directors with the most heat on them are those with the flashiest style or the most audacious plot structures. Bahrani’s plots are audacious, but only in their elegance of execution. Whether you like his movies or not, those are the kinds of films that tend to stand the test of time. And while I still wouldn't proclaim him the next great thing in American movies, he’s certainly making the case with each film he puts out.