Ramin Bahrani made his fourth Ebertfest appearance with a touching screening of his masterful "Goodbye Solo" and a Q&A moderated by David Bordwell.
You emailed me the questions to this interview on March 15, 2013. In your March 16th reply to my email, you said: The piece will go out to all my print syndication customers. (“Print!” How times change.)
Ramin Bahrani, the best new American director of recent years, has until now focused on outsiders in this country: A pushcart operator from Pakistan, a Hispanic street orphan in New York, a cab driver from Senegal working in Winston-Salem. NC. His much-awaited new film, "At Any Price," is set in the Iowa heartland and is about two American icons: A family farmer and a race car driver. It plays Sunday and Monday in the Toronto Film Festival.
The first time I made a year-end list for Scanners, I did it by suggesting double-bills of 2006 films with older films (much like what contributors to The Auteurs did this year). In 2007, I made my first year-end movie, inspired by "L'Eclisse," as a tribute to the late Michelangelo Antonioni and a commentary on the WGA strike that was happening at the time. Last year, the concept was based on a shot of Hannah Schygulla, Goddess of Cinema, waking up, looking into the camera (in Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven") and dreaming fragments of the films on my list.
This year, I'm not quite sure how it came together (see opening title), but I took my cue from my favorite movie of the year, the Coens' "A Serious Man." I knew I didn't want to adhere to any rigid countdown hierarchy this time, but to let the movies converse with themselves through images. I chose the word "conversation" knowing there would be no dialog except at the very beginning and the very end, with the Jefferson Airplane song "Somebody to Love" (recurring element in "A Serious Man") in between. That gave me approximately 2 minutes and 58 seconds for the montage....
Since Moses brought the tablets down from the mountain, lists have come in tens, not that we couldn't have done with several more commandments. Who says a year has Ten Best Films, anyway? Nobody but readers, editors, and most other movie critics. There was hell to pay last year when I published my list of Twenty Best. You'd have thought I belched at a funeral. So this year I have devoutly limited myself to exactly ten films.
Ramin Bahrani is the new great American director. After three films, each a master work, he has established himself as a gifted, confident filmmaker with ideas that involve who and where we are at this time. His films pay great attention to ordinary lives that are not so ordinary at all. His subjects so far have been immigrants working hard to make a living in America. His fourth film, now in preparation, will be a Western. His hero will be named Tom. Well, he couldn't very well be named Huckleberry.
The Old West, too, was a land of immigrants, many of them speaking no English. But Bahrani never refers to his characters as immigrants. They are new Americans, climbing the lower rungs of the economic ladder. There is the Pakistani in "Man Push Cart," who operates a coffee-and-bagel wagon in Manhattan. The Latino kid in "Chop Shop," surviving in a vast auto parts bazaar in the shadow of Shea Stadium. The taxi driver from Senegal in "Goodbye Solo," who works long hours in Winston-Salem, N.C. ["Solo" opens March 27 in Chicago and New York.] These people are not grim and depressed, but hopeful when they have little to be hopeful about. They aren't walking around angry. Wounded, sometimes. They plan to prevail.
I still haven't gotten 'round to writing about some of the best movies I saw at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, including "Wendy and Lucy," "Liverpool," "35 Rhums" and (below) "Goodbye Solo":
Here's what distinguishes Ramin Bahrani's films for me, and why I like them so much. When I watch a movie by director of "Man Push Cart," "Chop Shop" and "Goodbye Solo" (which just won the FIPRESCI critics prize at the Venice Film Festival), I don't feel somebody has begun with a pre-set story and then figured out how to film it. I feel like I'm watching something that is rooted in concrete observation, inquiry, exploration. It feels as though the filmmaker has noticed something that has moved him or roused his curiosity, and that he has decided not just to incorporate those things into his movie, but to actually focus on them and see where they they took him from there.
TORONTO — First the long windup. Then the fast pitch. The Toronto International Film Festival, always front-loaded, exploded over the weekend with movies day and night, all over town, every audience movie-savvy, every theater selling bran muffins right next to the popcorn, thousands of volunteers in their blue T-shirts like a jolly welcoming committee. Never a frown, and believe me, we moviegoers test them plenty.