Film Highlight: Under the Radar: The Films of Ramin Bahrani

Still from Fados (2007), directed by Carlos Saura
courtesy of Walker Art Center
Still from Fados (2007), directed by Carlos Saura

The Walker pays tribute to director Ramin Bahrani, who, at 34, has quietly emerged as one of the major figures in American independent film. What's consistently remarkable about Bahrani's work is his steadfast refusal to peddle cheap sentiment, or to mine for hope where none is to be found. While all of his films to date have dealt with entrepreneurial endeavors, it is not riches that Bahrani's ragged protagonists seek but merely a finer quality of rags. In Goodbye Solo (Friday at 7:30), the third and latest feature co-written and directed by Bahrani, the small-scale social climber is the title character (excellent newcomer Souléymane Sy Savané), a Senegalese-born taxi driver who cruises the streets of Winston-Salem. When Solo gives a ride to William, a taciturn senior citizen who seems to be planning for his final days (veteran character actor and former Elvis Presley bodyguard Red West), he is perplexed by the elder man's request to pick him up again at a date in the near future and deposit him at the top of a local mountain—no questions asked. The more Solo pries, the more William retreats. Yet a profound if fragile bond forms between the two men. The revelation of the film is West, who, in his first leading role, seems like an old buffalo nickel uncovered from the recesses of a dusty bureau, its worth derived not from its assigned value but from the places it has been and the hands it has passed through. (Bahrani will introduce the film and will also take part in a "master class" Friday at 1 p.m. to talk about his films.) On Thursday, the Walker will show Bahrani's other two films at free screenings. Man Push Cart (7 p.m.) is a subtly resonant character portrait of its protagonist (Ahmad Razvi), a former rock star from Lahore who now works a coffee-and-pastry pushcart in New York City. Though not overtly political, the film's matter-of-fact look at the daily trials of assimilation for a young Muslim man reads clearly in terms of post-9/11 America. By the end, the repeated images of man pushing cart have merged into an infinite loop, a visually eloquent summation of the stoic hero's existential plight. Chop Shop (8:45 p.m.) takes place in a rundown patch of Queens, where a 12-year-old boy named Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco) steals to keep food on the table and his sister (Isamar Gonzales) away from truckers and their $40 tricks. They're streetwise orphans, squeaking by on Ale's meager odd jobs and his dream of independence, as ill-advised as it is poignant, in the form of a rusty old broken-down van that he yearns to one day rehabilitate into his very own bright and shiny tacomobile.

 
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