I recently discovered the movies of Ramin Bahrani, a young American film director born to Iranian parents, and I have not been more excited about a director in a long time. Though I’ve not yet seen his first movie Man Push Cart, his second feature length Chop Shop really blew me away. It’s about an orphaned 12 year old boy and his 16 year old sister who are trying to make it on the streets of New York City. More specifically, in the Iron Triangle, a sprawling junkyard of auto repair and body shops in Queens next to a stadium where baseball players earn millions. What’s most impressive about the movie is its naturalistic style—the dialogue is messy the way real speech is, the actors have an undeniable chemistry with each other, and the scenes unfold as if it were an unscripted documentary (even though the effect was painstakingly planned and executed). Look elsewhere if you are craving a sentimental movie—Chop Shop doesn’t provide easy answers or nice resolutions, preferring complexity and subtlety. But it’s not a depressing movie either; our two protagonists take life as it comes and make the best of it, having fun along the way and not letting setbacks get them down.
His latest movie Goodbye Solo is like a cross between Driving Miss Daisy and the Iranian film Taste of Cherry (also highly recommended). In it, a Senegalese taxi driver befriends an old man who wishes to be driven to Blowing Rock where, it is implied, he will commit suicide. Solo, the charismatic taxi driver, wants to talk him out of ending his life. At the same time, he has his own family troubles to deal with: marital disagreements, a young daughter growing up, and another baby on the way. Like Chop Shop, this movie provides no easy answers but gives you a peek into an unfamiliar world and makes you think and feel. It’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in recent memory, and I highly recommend it.
Though some people have pointed out that he specializes in films about marginal parts of society (orphaned children and immigrant taxi drivers), Bahrani himself doesn’t see it quite that way:
Even though people say I make films about the margins and minorities, I disagree. I think I make films about the majority, which is hand to mouth existence. That is how most people in this world live. Despite what Hollywood and also what Independent Cinema in America shows you, which are educated, affluent, beautiful white people. This is not the majority of the world. I’m not saying there’s no room for that, but for 98% of cinema in America to be dominated by this I think is not correct. I think it’s a dictatorship of dreams and imaginations.