I rushed to my seat, having had a quick cup of coffee on the outside. It’s a packed auditorium, for that is where this particular screening was held, and I managed to get there just in the nick of time. According to the festival rules, no one is allowed in after the screening has started. And you don’t want to be late for screenings; in addition to being a waste of time, energy and money rushing to the respective screenings from halfway across town, it’s also more than a little embarrassing.
“Fikri! FIKRI!” I managed to make out amongst the din of the conversations. I turned, looking for the person calling out my name. I couldn’t quite see it, or her, rather; the voice struck me as feminine.
“Fikri!” Finally, I found her. It was Hye-jin, one of my seniors at school. She was with a friend, and I went over, as you do, and tried to make casual conversation (as you do). Of course, I had a mini-crush on her when we were on Paula’s set, when I met her for the first time. “Forget about her,” said the gaffer at the time. “Move on.”
Nevertheless, she still made me a little nervous, and so the casual conversation became an awkward one. (Case in point: “What are you doing here?” “Err…to watch the movie.”) After feeling myself become red with embarrassment/blushiness, I made my excuses, went to my seat, and did not turn back once.
‘Goodbye Solo’ follows the story of two unlikely friends. Unlikely, because one of them didn’t actually want to be friends with the other. Rather, William (Red West) is looking for a final flourish, seemingly tired with the life that he has led. He stepped into the taxi driven by Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane), a chirpy Senegalese who tries to make ends meet for his family, as well as achieve his ambition of becoming a flight attendant. All that becomes a little more complicated once William comes into the picture. “I will pay good money if you send me to Blowing Rock in a few weeks time, without a ride back from the rock” was what he essentially said. Blowing Rock is a particular hill/mountain, so Solo, feeling somewhat perturbed by William’s request, agreed to it, but with the aim of trying to change his mind. And with that very early beginning out of the way, so begins one of the most interesting stories I have seen so far this year.
The film explores Solo’s attempt to change William’s mind, and he began to intergrate William more and more into his life, even introducing his wife, Quiera (Carmen Leyva), and her daughter-from-another-brother, Alex (Diana Franco Galindo) What makes the film interesting is not so much that plot, but the characters.
The plot, by itself, is simple: Solo tries to change what he thinks is William’s decision to kill himself. That’s it. But in that process, I am mesmerised by the clash between the seemingly immovable object of William’s pure stubbornness and Solo’s infectious optimism. If ever there is a story where the character doesn’t merely define the plot, but is the plot itself, ‘Goodbye Solo’ is it. The film becomes more and more fleshed out as the characters becomes more and more fleshed out.
Red West, who’s constantly referred to as one of Elvis’s close buddies, becomes absolutely irritable along the way. He becomes angry when Solo tries to poke into his business, trying to find out more about his life. He accepts Solo’s friendship on a certain level, but is pissed when he feels that Solo is trying to make him change his mind. He befriends Alex, yet another character who is not your usual child-character. She strikes me as smart and curious both at the same time, exhibiting a very nice combination that we don’t always see in such supporting roles made for children; despite Solo not being her biological father, she accepts him almost as if he is. The same applies to William, who plays an almost-grandfatherly role to her. Other characters in other movies would have thrown teacups across the room. In fact, I saw the pilot movie for ‘Caprica’ recently, in which the stepmother was chastised by the young lady of the house: “I guess I could learn how to marry into money.” Bitchy. 🙂
That struck me as more than just a little interesting, because William appears to not have a family or care about what is left of one. On the nights when he asked Solo to drop him off at the cinema theatre, he would spend some time just looking at the young man working behind the counter. Solo, who did not leave as instructed, had his natural curiosity aroused, and discovered the possibility that the young could have been William’s grandson. He probed William about this, but William, feeling somewhat (and understandably) betrayed, flew of the handle, and practically severed all forms of relationship with Solo. Nevertheless, Solo’s persistence flies in the face of William’s logic, and they find themselves forming an irresistible bond, a structure that resembles a family. It is clearly an important notion to Solo, who described from the start how families in Senegal would stay with you no matter what. “Why aren’t you there now?” gruffed William. It is this snide remarks that would have driven other people away, but not Solo.
It is this optimism within Solo that drives the movie. Any other old driver would have happily taken the money and let the old man go where he wants to. But not Solo, it is not something he is willing to sit down and take it simply. There are even hints of admiration, of inspiration, at William’s own persistence to do his own thing. It makes him drive his own ambitions further, to become a flight attendant. In that sense, then, Solo and William (and Alex) provides the spark for each other’s lives, to drive to celebrate their lives rather than to bleakly fade away into the sunset. They each get something from the other, and it provides a great change.
In so many ways, however, it somehow flies in the face of the accepted standard of character development. Most films would concentrate on more drastic changes, on drastic developments, to bring the story forward. In a lot of the films I have seen, there has been complete character reversals that made total sense within the film itself, but here, though there is change in each of the major characters, it does not dim their original spirits found at the start of the film. Rather, it enhanced it. It became brighter the more the time they spend together. I read an article recently, about how some of the most memorable characters don’t actually change all that much. Solo, in this regard, becomes a more complete man, just not necessarily a different one. It is a lesson well-worth learning, and it makes me feel like I want to watch the rest of Rahim Bahrani’s filmography. ‘Goodbye Solo’ is a force of optimism that is difficult to turn away from.
The film ended, the lights came up. I sat in my seat, mulling over what I had just seen, and decided to seek out Hye-jin, and be more cool about things. Just be me, be more optimistic, and not expect so much.
I turned, and saw only the empty seat where she was.
According to Fikri‘s friend, the only English sentences Ecuadorian footballer Antonio Valencia knows are “Hello my friend” and, as he points to his kness, “Massage please.” 🙂