Souléymane, known as Solo, is a Senegalese cabbie in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. One night he picks up William, who’s twice his age and seems to be planning to kill himself. Solo has a pregnant girlfriend, is outgoing, energetic and has ambitions – he’s studying to become a flight attendant. William is alone and seems as tired of life as it’s possible to be. It’s not just his looks – the creased face, the sore-looking eyes – but his whole way of being. He’s resolutely distant and taciturn, and his tough-minded lack of sentimentality suggests a hard life.
Solo won’t accept William’s isolation and tries to bring him out of himself and to find out about his life. He follows William, looks through his bags, asks questions. At one point William sets his boundaries with a hard punch to Solo’s face. We learn almost nothing about William’s life, except that he probably has a grandchild he can’t reveal himself to. This is a film that goes nowhere, about two guys who don’t connect. And it’s brilliant.
At one point, Solo tells William that in his country every parent would be welcome in the home of any of his or her children. William bluntly tells him to go back there. But Solo is in America, optimistically seeking his version of The Dream. These guys seem different in every way. Bahrani’s genius is to reveal their common humanity. The film bears comparison with the great humanist cinema of Ozu, but focuses not on the poignancy of a life passing by, but on the mystery of what is to come. A great achievement.