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April 11 - April 12

The Films of Ramin Bahrani, or Life at Street-Level

At a time when "cinematic" seems increasingly to be taken as a synonym for "spectacular," the films of Ramin Bahrani (b. 1975) remind us of cinema's unique strength as a means of exploring the world around us, not just imagining new ones. Born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to Iranian parents, Bahrani studied film at Columbia University and returned to his ancestral home in 2000 to make his now unavailable thesis film, Strangers. Bahrani's use of nonprofessional actors and his committed and compassionate focus on marginal, often downtrodden, protagonists provides an important further link to Iranian cinema and major Iranian directors such as Abbas Kiarostami, whom Bahrani has acknowledged as a major influence. Bahrani's subsequent three features, shot in English in the U.S., have earned him a place in the front ranks of American independent filmmakers, acclaimed not just here but at festivals around the world.

While Bahrani's films are often celebrated as a return to a mode of neo-realism, his style is quite distinct from what is typically meant by the term, and is instead better understood as a judicious combination of different schools of filmmaking. As Bahrani himself has pointed out, the use of nonprofessional actors goes back before the postwar neo-realist movement, with one of its most important early expressions found in the work of Robert Flaherty, one of Bahrani's favorite filmmakers. And yet Bahrani's films exhibit a restraint and rigor that recall Robert Bresson, another of Bahrani's heroes. What ultimately results from Bahrani's clear-eyed realism is a powerful emotionalism that emerges from his organic narrative style and his close working relationship with his actors. Although both the extreme naturalism of the performances and the documentary-like use of a hand-held camera give the films an almost improvisational quality, they are, in fact, the result of careful planning.

Special thanks to Dustin Smith, Roadside Attractions. Additional thanks to the Independent Film Festival Boston.


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Special Event Tickets $10
Saturday April 11 at 7pm

Goodbye Solo

Directed by Ramin Bahrani, Appearing in Person
With Souleymane Sy Savané, Red West, Diana Franco Galindo
US 2008, 35mm, color, 91 min.

Bahrani’s latest film tells the story of the friendship that reluctantly grows between an improbable pair—a Senegalese taxi driver living and working in North Carolina and an aging curmudgeon who hires the cabbie to leave him on a desolate mountain far out of town without telling him why. Filmed in Bahrani’s native Winston-Salem, Goodbye Solo reveals the director’s fascination with the increasingly multicultural patterns of American life by focusing on the group dynamic between the African driver, his Mexican girlfriend, her spirited bilingual daughter and the Southern retiree. Buoyed by the irrepressible performance of first time actor Souleymane Sy Savané, Goodbye Solo’s intense character study offers a cross between Kiarostamian observation and Cassavetian intensity, marrying two of Bahrani’s key influences. Leaving behind the urban grit of Bahrani’s two previous films, Goodbye Solo captures an autumnal lyricism that imbues the friendship of the protagonists with a poignant melancholy.

Backgammon

Directed by Ramin Bahrani, Appearing in Person
With Souleymane With Sheema Regimand, Manucher Marzban
US 1998, 16mm, color, 10 min. English and Persian with English intertitles

In this early short film, Bahrani already shows his ability to convey character subtly by integrating image and performance. A young Iranian American girl looks to backgammon as a way to get to know her grandfather, recently arrived from Iran. Bahrani uses this simple encounter to illustrate the intersections of family and nationality, the generation gap and cultural difference.

 Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.


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Special Event Tickets $10
Sunday April 12 at 7pm

Man Push Cart

Directed by Ramin Bahrani, Appearing in Person
With Ahmad Razvi, Leticia Dolera, Charles Daniel Sandoval
US 2005, 35mm, color, 87 min.
Print from Films Philos

The compelling story of Bahrani’s breakthrough film centers on a haunting avatar of the old world, an immigrant pushcart vendor who rises at dawn to sell coffee and bagels at the foot of Manhattan’s corporate towers. Man Push Cart sets out to capture the paradoxes and poetry of 21st century New York City as a place of evocative contrasts, embodied in the Pakistani vendor’s mysterious past, gradually revealed to lay worlds away from his Sisyphean life in the streets. Like its lonely hero, Man Push Cart keeps its distance from those characters that represent an easier form of narrative resolution—the love interest, the family, the compassionate fellow immigrant. The film’s critical success saw Bahrani immediately labeled as an heir to the neo-realist tradition, a claim supported by the Man Push Cart’s patient style and its careful, documentary-inspired focus on the grinding rituals that define the vendor’s world.

Chop Shop

Directed by Ramin Bahrani, Appearing in Person
With Alejandro Polanco, Isamar Gonzales, Ahmad Razvi
US 2007, 35mm, color, 84 min.
Print from Koch Lorber Films

During the filming of Man Push Cart, Bahrani discovered Willets Point, an industrial area in Queens sustained by block upon block jumble of auto body shops. Instantly struck by the neighborhood’s rich narrative and visual possibilities – “if Los Olvidados were to be made today and in America, it would be made here,” he claimed—Bahrani looked beneath the surface of apparent bleakness to discover a vivid improvised theater of life on the edge. Perhaps inspired by Buñuel’s masterpiece, Bahrani focuses his film on a precocious twelve-year old who scavenges and works odd jobs to support himself and his older sister. While the non-professional cast’s strong performances give the film an authentic, improvisatory quality, the meticulous planning, scripting and rehearsals behind Chop Shop are revealed in the film’s expressive use of the rough hewn auto body shops and the film’s carefully sustained tempo. Bahrani’s seemingly casual yet delicately precise camerawork allows the film to miraculously retain its naturalism while avoiding any traces of sentimentality.

 Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.


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