I just saw Goodbye Solo (2008) at the Pickford. I was interested in the film because a friend had told me about Ramin Bahrani's earlier films Man Push Cart (2005) and Chop Shop (2007) after I told him that I was interested in Iranian cinema. Ramin Bahrani is an Iranian-American who actually traveled to Iran to create his first film Strangers (2000). None of these films are actually Iranian films of course (although, Strangers is a more complicated case), but they do all seem to be interested in identity (national/minority) to a certain degree.
Goodbye Solo certainly follows this trend with the main chracter Solo (Souléymane Sy Savané) - often Solo would tell William (Red West) how things are done 'back home,' thinking American ways of life (at least William's) are quite strange. At one point, William responded by asking Solo why he doesn't go back home then, and Solo explained that he was working in America to send money home and that he did intend to return home eventually. Throughout, the film draws attention to different nationalities: Solo is Senegalese, Solo's wife is Mexican, William is American (he once mentions riding Harley's - he's that American!).
Bahrani, born in North Carolina and graduate of Columbia University, is certainly American, but it seems identity is a question in his own life as much as it is in his films. He returned to Iran for three years to create the film Strangers, and although I haven't seen this film, I read a review comparing it to Kiarostami's work. I wouldn't doubt that, as Goodbye Solo is very simliar to the Iranian film Taste of Cherry (1997). It is almost as if Goodbye Solo is a reimagining of this earlier film, but with its own set of interests. In Taste of Cherry, Mr. Badii, who is looking for someone to drive him to his grave and bury him, picks up a number of different drivers and tries to convince them to perform this task. The people Badii picks up are from a variety of different social situations: one is a soldier, one is religious, one is an intellectual (of course, these categories aren't so rigidly defined in the film). So, Kiarostami seems to be interested in how these different people will react to Badii's request, whereas Bahrani seems to be more interested in the situation of US immigrants - but there is this same focus on the reaction to this strange semi-ambigous request to help one assist them in their suicide for a large sum of money.
Bahrani's film carries some of the hallmarks of Iranian cinema as well. The ending of the film is ambiguous and it seems to cut off without a clear resolution (though, I would argue that Bahrani's ending is less ambiguous than many Iranian films). The film is more of a meditation on a concept, rather than a narrative driven plot. The film is clearly focused around Solo's turmoil as he works through his thoughts on William's suicide, making the film seem like more of a meditation. There are many things that don't seem very Iranian about it as well though - although, perhaps these are just boundaries being crossed that wouldn't be in Iran because of the MCIG.
I am curious to know what the average film goer thinks about this film. I thought the film was fantastic, but I enjoy Iranian films, and it does have a certain quality of Iranianess to it. This might make the film seem slow to many viewers. But Bahrani seems to have anticipated this and countered it with Solo's lively - often hilarious - incessant dialogue, a number of side-drama's that the viewer becomes invested in (Solo's marriage, child, job application), and the constant exploration of William's personal life (which is pretty much nil in Taste of Cherry with Badii). It seems then that Bahrani was able to adopt the aesthetic of Iranian films and work towards translating it for American audiences.
To sum up: I liked the film, and I'll be looking for more from Bahrani in the future. It should be interesting to see how he develops as a filmmaker.