goodbye solo

May 6, 2009

“blowing rock is the only place in the world where the snow goes upside down.”

i saw this a while ago at the cleveland international film festival, and am just now getting around to writing about it.  i’ve had a very mixed reaction to this film sitting in my head for a while, so it’s taken some time to sort out my thoughts.

what was really cool about the screening was that ramin bahrani was in attendance, and introduced the film then afterwards had a q&a session.  i saw two films at the ciff and both of them had the filmmaker in attendance.  i got spoiled.  the next time i went to the movie theater i was expecting paul rudd to come out and take my questions.

the two leads, souleymane sy savane and red west, are both really good.  savane maybe a little more than west.  west is at his best when he’s sitting quietly and you can just stare at his face and how the years have shaped him.  savane is just the kind of guy you want to know and hang out with because he’s a constant validater.  he never puts you down and is always building you up.

i was hoping going in that i would come out having seen one of, if not the, best film of 2009.  but what i came out with was a film that despite some great performances, sort of falls flat.  bahrani is a part of this neo neo-realism movement involving filmmakers kelly riechardt, lance hammer, and ryan fleck (check out an awesome article on it in the ny times).  and in this neo neo-realism the directors don’t want to give too much away about their characters.  they want you as the viewer to piece together past histories and experiences and whatnot.  but this is where i felt the film really lacked.  it spent too much time dwelling in minutia when we needed more about these characters.  you have two really compelling characters and for most of the movie it feels like they’re just sitting there.  we want to know more about red west’s past and about solo’s life.  we want to be more involved with them as people, because the way it is now we are left feeling sort of cold and indifferent to them (not entirely but we’re not won over either).  the biggest mistake bahrani makes is not involving us enough, not giving us enough information, on these characters we desperately want to know better.

another problem i had with the film is the ending.  now you probably haven’t seen the film yet so i don’t want to spoil it for you, but i still want to talk about it.  so i’m giving you a spoiler warning.  continue to read after the second set of dotted lines if you don’t want to know…

spoilers.

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what really bothered me about the ending is this misconstrued sense that this is friendship.  that if your friend wants to kill himself you just are going to have to let him do it because that’s what a true friend would do.  that’s bogus.  a true friend would not leave their friends in these dire straights.  the film thinks it’s demonstrating selfless love when really it’s just re-iterating selfish love.  for once i would like to see a film that actually captures selfless love.  and i know that bahrani didn’t want a typical hollywood ending, but to end it the way it does amidst this cloud of righteousness is wrong.  you can end the film with red west killing himself, but solo cannot be happy about it and you cannot say that it’s selfless love.

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spoilers over.

bahrani is still a filmmaker i expect great things from.  chop shop was one of my favorites from last year, and even if this film fell short overall, there is enough to like in it (and enough to see that he’s not taking steps backwards) that i still can’t wait to see what he does next.

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