Ramin Bahrani is unlike most independent filmmakers working today. And that’s quite the compliment. After making the exceptional and quietly profound Man Push Cart—which followed a middle eastern protagonist across the bustling streets of New York as he pushed his sizable coffee and bagel cart in the dark hours of every morning—Bahrani still stays in New York, but this time follows the thorough conviction of a Latino child protagonist “Ale” played with in a bravura performance by Alejandro Polanco in Chop Shop. “Ale” works diligently in a grimy and always lively chop shop just outside of the Mets stadium, where Bahrani first makes the clearest point with the stasis of social class structure. Where members of the upper class are able to enjoy a night at the game, “Ale” and his friends must learn to enjoy themselves with selling porn magazines, playing around dilapidated edifices and hanging out with drunk men three times their age—all this only minutes away from the posh Mets field.
Bahrani actually appeared before the packed Chicago audience on Monday’s special screening to take some questions. I asked him why he chose to make Dickensian narratives such as Chop Shop when many of his colleagues are hung up on their own narcissistic values and consistently try to make their own Pulp Fiction with flashy camera movements and pop culture-infused dialogue. He responded by saying that those types of films didn’t interest him.
“When I set out to make films,” Bahrani explained, “I wanted to make them about issues that were concerning our current world. Individuals like “Ale”, who may be minorities, are actually becoming within today’s economy the majority.”
Chop Shop is a brave film. It probably won’t change your life and make you to visit the slums in your area, but if you feel provoked and bothered by it then I feel Bahrani would be proud. It is in the humble opinion of this reviewer that Chop Shop stands with the best films of 2008. If I have been vague about plot developments it is ardently intentional and calculated. You need to walk into this one cold and opinion free. This isn’t the commercial mess playing at the multiplex. This is a film to be enveloped by; many viewers have often mistaken it for a documentary. It is not. It just feels achingly real. And when we go to the movies, isn’t that what we want? To feel like we’ve actually experienced something?