Ramin Bahrani is a truly magical film director (born in North Carolina, USA, to Iranian parents). The world of his films is a world of nighthawks, immigrants, trashy motels, road houses, cabs on call, broken families, loneliness and unusual friendships. In other words – welcome to the USA!
Concerning the themes of his films and the general atmosphere of his cinematic work, Bahrani’s USA would be the same USA as that of Tom Waits – poetic, melancholic, an irresistible growling from the streets. Bahrani has made four films so far, and all of his films were highly praised by ciritics and loved by the (indie) audiences, particularly his second film – Chop Shop (a little side note – Roger Ebert listed Chop Shop as the 6th best film of the decade and hailed Bahrani as “the director of the decade“).
Still, that is not to say his other films are less valuable or less wonderful. To prove that, or rather to show my appreciation for Bahrani’s work, I am writing about his first film – Man Push Cart, and the third one – Goodbye Solo, both lovely and heartwarming.
Man Push Cart is a simple-story film (like all Bahrani’s films) showing a night in the life of a former Pakistani rock star who now sells coffee from his push cart on the streets of Manhattan. Ahmad is a Pakistani immigrant, struggling to drag his heavy cart along the streets of New York to his corner in Midtown Manhattan. Ahmad Razvi is so natural as Ahmad and his story feels so genuine, so real. Ahmad is in a new phase in his life, but it rather feels like a totally new life, where his past is nothing but a series of flashes of a life so distant, of a former-self that he might never get back.
He is a stranger – a stranger to this life, a stranger to the city around him. Every day he sells coffee and donuts to a city he cannot call his own. He wonders about his life, but doesn’t lose his mind over it. He seems as a man ready to accept his fate, and whatever tomorrow brings. His calm and lonely ways are presented to us with a background of New York’s darks streets and yellow street lights that speak of poetry with no need for clarification. We feel Ahmad is lonely, even when he bonds with lovely Leticia Dolera who plays a spanish immigrant, but we also feel he is kinda ok with it. Does this speak of his weaknesses, or maybe his wisdom? What is the right way, and is there a right way, a universal one, at all?
Throughout the film, the director is always coming back to the image of Ahmad pushing his cart through New York, the perfect illustration of loneliness in an overcrowded place. Brilliant photography helps in creating an atmosphere one inhales and keeps in his/her lungs for a long time after seeing the film. A beautiful experience!
Goodbye Solo is the story of two men who form an unlikely friendship. Solo is a Senegalese cab driver working to provide a better life for his young family and William is a tough Southern good ol’ boy with a lifetime of regrets. One man’s American dream is just beginning, while the other’s is falling apart.
Still, their differences aside, both men soon realize they need each other more than either (William more than Solo) is willing to admit. It is a story of friendship, but also a story of America and the ruins of American dream(s). Solo is on a cretain quest to save William (from what is clearly a suicide trip), but is at the same time trying to gain control over his own life, in terms of providing for his family, getting a better job, preparing for a new child and raising his step-daughter.
He has a big shiny smile (Souleyman Savane is a natural, so great at this role), and is full of dreams for tomorrow, but still – somewhere deep inside, silently, he is fully aware of his position as a second-rate citizen (maybe hoping that the silence will make that fact disappear). On the other hand, William is an old man, always grumpy, with many hardships on his path of life, but still – too bitter for a life that can still offer surprises and inspiring moments.
In a beautiful and almost seamless blend of the story and photography (once again), Bahrani tells a tale of persistence, but also – of learning to let go. All of that with a spark of mystery, always present in his films, for he is on mission to make us see, but also – make us wonder and keep us wondering.