Chop Shop - Neo-Realism In The Slums of NYC

                             Sometimes, in a movie, a character upstages a particular genre or a style. It upstages long enough for the human behavior to occupy the foreground, for the illusion to work its magic. We feel like watching a life, not a screenplay. The socially concerned Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani practices that kind of transparency. Bahrani's 'Chop Shop,' a indie film is a neorealistic film, which is in the mold of De Sica's 'Bicycle Thieves,' and also follows the form of modern day Iranian directors like Jafar Panahi and Abbas Kiarostami

                            In Chop Shop, Bahrani shows us the auto-body repair shops in the outskirts of Queens, New York. These auto-body shops range from semi-legal to black-market. The blocks and blocks of repair establishments and junkyards  comprise an incongruous world, which take us into America's hidden Third World. The film shows that, for every Donald Trump and every wall-street broker, there are dozens of anonymous souls on the pavement below, struggling to make ends meet by hawking bootleg DVDs or dropping off newspaper bundles. 

       12-year old Ale (Alejandro) lives without parents or education, who works in one of the many auto repair places in New York, an area called Willet's Point or the "Iron Triangle." Ale, along with best friend Carlos,  vends candy on the subways, sweeps up and hustles business for a body shop owner (Rob Sowulski) and sells illegal DVDs. Ale's routine life change when Alejandros older sister Isamar (Isamar Gonzales), high-school drop-out, shows up.

                    She is the opposite of Ale, lazy and bad with money. Anyway, he takes her in, letting her share his tiny room and finding her work on a lunch cart that belongs to one of his many friends. Ale is also constantly trying to figure out ways to make a 'real' home for himself and his sister. His ambition or dream is to buy a food truck and operate it with his sister. Dollar by hard-earned dollar, they save up the money to do it. Then story travels without any of the Hollywood's traditional cliches, which is as realistic as everything that has preceded it. 

                Director Ramin Bahrani has found non-actors Polanco and Gonzales at the same depicted places in Manhattan. Alejandro Polanco commands the screen with his presence, and carries the film with his devastatingly real performance. Polanco is naturally charismatic, which permits Bahrani to draw some comedy out of his star's personality. Alejandro's interactions in the movie defines who he is. In one instance, Rob, the shop owner, gets irritated with Alejandro when he pays and he stands there counting his money. "What're you counting it for?" Rob asks, insulted. On the other hand, a chop-shop operator (played by Ahmad Razvi) tells him, "Count your money." So Bahrani depicts us Rob, the old-school American, vs. Ahmad, the new American, and the boy in the middle, trying to figure out how he'll get around both of them.We imagine that he will succeed, without wanting to imagine how.

                   Director Bahrani immerses us into the slice-of-life scenarios, he also educates us to the nooks and crannies of society that most people overlook. It's energizing to watch Bahrani explore the possibilities of neo-realism to dramatize indigence and disenfranchisement among the service-class in this country. The screenplay by Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi develops the story and the characters in unforeseen ways. at the same time drawing you into the life of these peoples.

                     Bahrani and Azimi have presented a scorching view of the bottom of the working world, a place of unrelenting bleakness and pressure.  They show us a invisible poor in rich America, with realism and poignance. As a viewer, once we see their faces and the challenges of their lives, we can begin to empathize with them. The empathy doesn't lead to pity, but to a  determination to do something about the moral imperative to help our neighbors.

                    Chop Shop is both depressing and touching, and many of its truths, are a bit hard to stomach. The movie is devoid of audience-pleasing endings and the director refuses to tie up his loose ends with formula resolutions. Watch 'Chop Shop' for its engaging truth and beauty in the harshest of environments. 


Chop Shop - IMDb


Sunil Deepak said...

Very nicely written review :)

Subhorup Dasgupta said...

Sounds extremely interesting. Thanks for sharing this, another piece of cinema and filmmakers that I was totally unaware of. Will be looking out for it.

ajeethboaz said...

Thanx for a new movie review...