MAN PUSH CART (Ramin Bahrani, 2005)

Every 3 a.m. Ahmad collects his thousand-pound steel cart and drags it to his alotted place in Manhattan. He sells coffee, tea, muffins and bagels. On the side, he sells bootlegged DVDs. Ahmad, a Pakistani immigrant, lives in a hole with a kitten he found abandoned in the street, scraping by, hoping to buy his cart and move his little boy into a better apartment with him. Currently his son, who hardly remembers him anymore, lives with his maternal grandparents, who blame Ahmad for their daughter’s death. (He uprooted her to live in this Allah-forsaken country.) Ahmad is buoyed, then, by the wisp of a troubled dream.
     Written and directed by Iranian-American Ramin Bahrani, and starring Pakistani-American Ahmad Razvi, who himself used to be a New York street vendor, Man Push Cart is a tone-poem and social comedy that only once, briefly near the close, submits to defeatist melodrama. Otherwise, this is an engrossing fable which helps remind us that a full human life hides behind each anonymous “alien” façade that confronts us in our cities and communities. Doing his best to get by, Ahmad is no worse than the rest of us.
     Most of this independent U.S. film, which Bahrani also edited, is in English, but some of it is spoken in Urdu, such as scenes between Ahmad and his in-laws. Ahmad interacts with other Pakistani immigrants, and he is shyly attracted to the Spanish girl in a newsstand. Ahmad’s life is constrained and somewhat dangerous, although to sustain the work’s minimalism and existentialism Bahrani keeps out all reference to the additional dangers that have dogged American Muslims post-9/11 as the worst among us, in packs, have publicly assaulted F.B.I.-harassed neighbors. Bahrani focuses on his modern Sisyphus.
     Michael Simmonds contributes gorgeous color cinematography.

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