CHOP SHOP (Ramin Bahrani, 2007)

In Willet’s Point, Queens, within sight and sound of Shea Stadium, in the “Iron Triangle,” Alejandro lives, along with his 16-year old sister, Isamar, in a tiny room inside the auto-body repair shop where he works. Actually, the foul-mouthed 12-year-old orphan, contesting poverty with ebullient enterprise, has his hand in a lot of things, including theft. He is saving money so that he and Isamar can own and operate their own taco truck. Alejandro has never attended school.
     Iranian-American Ramin Bahrani co-wrote Chop Shop with Bahareh Azimi, directed and edited, and his film is at its best, early on, as it observes the boy’s hectic junkyard milieu in documentary detail. Unfortunately, Bahrani insists on telling a story, forcing it into his interesting study of social environment, and the story won’t stay put except to impose on the material a thematic irresolution masquerading as open-endedness.
     I called Bahrani’s Man Push Cart (2005), about a Pakistani-American New York City street vendor, “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.” Regrettably, Chop Shop collapses into the “defeatist melodrama” that the earlier film for the most part avoided.
     Man Push Cart had seemed to mark Bahrani as an American filmmaker of some promise, but Chop Shop cancels that hope and that promise.

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