REVIEW Ramin Bahrani’s first feature, Man Push Cart (2005) about a struggling Pakistani service worker selling coffee and bagels from a midtown Manhattan pushcart signaled the arrival of a genuine talent for atmospheric and absorbing realist drama, and an unpreachy champion of America’s disregarded immigrant working-class. Like a New York City Ken Loach with the anxious psychic interiors of a Cassavetes, Bahrani’s portraits (using nonprofessional actors and an ambient soundtrack) prove so highly attuned to character and evocative of place that you might overlook what a good storyteller he is. Chop Shop, his second feature (cowritten with Bahareh Azimi), delves further into the social terrain limned by the first, while relocating to New York’s urban periphery the industrial sprawl of Willets Point in outer Queens, a teeming maze of auto shops and chain-linked yards ringed by turnpikes, erector-set bridges, and Shea Stadium. Here 12-year-old Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco), alone in the world but for his sister (Isamar Gonzales), works jobs in and around the auto body shops to save money for a dilapidated food van he hopes will be the economic foothold that will keep them together. Admittedly lacking some of the sureness of Bahrani’s debut, Chop Shop‘s nevertheless compelling exploration of everyday drama on the harried, often undocumented margins of immigrant life has never felt more timely or deserving of attention.
CHOP SHOP opens Fri/27 at the Roxie Film Center. See Rep Clock.