Directed by Rahmin Bahrani
“Goodbye Solo,” which has been playing at the newly reopened Magic Lantern in Spokane, is a life-affirming film about death – or, I should say, the death wish. Solo, the Senegalese cab driver in Winston-Salem, picks up an old man, William (played by Red West) one night, who asks Solo if he would take him for a fee of a thousand dollars to a place in the mountains called Blowing Rock, a cliff where the wind blows so hard the snow falls up and whatever you throw comes right back to you.
Solo is curious, but William won’t say anything more than that. Solo (played by Souleymane Sy Savane,) a man with the joy of life in him, is intrigued by William and his strange quest. Little by little the life of both men comes together; in fact at one point they are even roommates, because Solo – who loves his Puerto Rican wife and daughter Alex – somehow cannot find the way to reconcile with her. He is pursuing his dream to be a flight attendant, studying the course, spending his time reading the rules for flight attendants. William, the gruff old man who used to be a driver for Elvis Presley, keeps going back to a movie theatre in town, trying unsuccessfully to make contact with the young man who’s working in the box office.
How all these things come together, with the life force of Solo pitched against the death wish of William, is the burden of the story. Writer-director Rahmin Bahrani, whose third film this is (he made “Chop Shop in 2007, and Man Push Cart, in 2005, both set in odd locations in New York City, and who now teaches film at Columbia) has found a new and very original concept. I was not taken with the character of William, which a lot of other critics were, because he seems too underwritten to be interesting; somehow I wanted to learn more about him, though Bahrani was obviously and deliberately making him more an object than a person. On the other hand, Solo is one of the most delicious characters I can recall seeing in almost any film. His many attempts to get inside William’s head, his own travails as a cab driver, his desire to be a different person, are all both warming and heart-breaking.
As the film comes to its end, Solo makes one last attempt to get to William; he brings his daughter Alex with him in the cab, hoping that she will serve to transfer some of William’s single-mindedness to someone else, someone with a life force that will expand William’s own view. “Goodbye Solo” is a most unusual film, particularly in this era of films that are nothing but endless meet-cute, break up, then get together at the end. “Goodbye Solo” is a most unusual film, life affirming but without even one cute moment in it.