10 May 2009

CHOP SHOP (Dir. Ramin Bahrani, 2007, US)

Chop Shop is Ramin Bahrani's 2nd film as a director

American independent film maker Ramin Bahrani’s third feature, Goodbye Solo, is currently receiving a warm critical reception, confirming the predictions of some critics who were quick to underline his undiluted neo realist approach to cinema. Debuting with Man Push Cart in 2005, a low budget film shot in New York, which focuses on the marginal character of a Pakistani immigrant and rock musician who is forced to survive by pushing around a food cart, Ramin Bahrani extended the outsider theme further in his second film, Chop Shop. Featuring an incredibly nuanced and compelling performance by non professional child actor Alejandro Polanco in the role of a twelve year old street orphan, ‘Ale’, Chop Shop imitates the neo realist philosophies of the Iranian new wave to produce a beautifully judged and elliptically inspired example of contemporary independent cinema that is unflinchingly authentic in its representation of America’s underclass. Bahrani is certainly a film maker who knows his cinema, succeeding in borrowing many of the visual traits and cinematic techniques characterising much of the neo realist works of influential film makers like Abbas Kiarostami and Vittorio De Sica and achieving a similar ideological concern for intriguing social dilemmas and moral questions facing those who exist on the fringes of American society. In Chop Shop, ‘Ale’ (short for Alejandro) and his sister ‘Izzy’ (Isamar Gonzales) live day to day by working low paid menial jobs with the hope of buying their own mobile food van. In exchange for the work Ale completes at an auto body repair shop, the owner allows them to sleep in the back of the shop.

Bahrani like many of the best exponents of the neo realist approach to film making, withholds key narrative information by refusing to provide back story or any kind of clear character motivation. Ellipsis becomes a decisive technique with which to hook the spectator and this means we are merely given a snapshot of a reality in motion. Bahrani’s cinema is about observing and scrutinising those micro details of everyday life that is either ignored in most mainstream cinema or condensed in order to salvage narrative time. Chop Shop is about inscribing the fragments of reality and this finds a poetic visual expression in the repetitive nature of the narrative, with Bahrani concentrating on the disempowering social position occupied by both Ale and Izzy. Poverty is neither humiliating nor exaggerated but treated with a certain degree of humanism so that we recognise Ale and Izzy’s plight as a metaphor of perseverance and perhaps even a natural product of today’s disconnected and vacuous society. American film critic, Roger Ebert, puts forward one of the most impassioned and articulate arguments for Bahrani’s importance as a key American film maker:

‘Ramin Bahrani is the new great American director. After three films, each a master work, he has established himself as a gifted, confident filmmaker with ideas that involve who and where we are at this time. His films pay great attention to ordinary lives that are not so ordinary at all. His subjects so far have been immigrants working hard to make a living in America…’

‘The New Great American Director’, Roger Ebert’s Journal, March 22 2009


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