Ramin Bahrani’s Chop Shop is every bit as scrappy as the junkyards of Queens where the films inhabitants hustle to stay ahead of the game. The game, of course is work, eat, sleep. Life, in other words, as we know it. Well, I’m fortunate enough not to know it intimately.
Twelve year old Alejandro works in and around the chop shops, where vehicles are broken up for spare parts, where you can get cut-rate deals on body work, on paint jobs. Alejandro is a go-fer and learning the trade. On the side he sells bootleg DVD’s. He and his sixteen year old sister, orphans, live together above one of the shops. Isamar works in a catering truck. And sometimes she sells herself for cash. Alejandro’s dream is to make enough money to buy their own catering truck and gain their independence.
The setting is impressively cinema verite. And it’s real. We know we’re in New York because Shea Stadium is within shouting distance, yet it seems in many ways a world away. The characters are real too. The chop shop, where much of the film was shot, has the owner in the film playing himself. And he’s actually very good. The brother-sister are not, but have a natural rapport together.
What I liked most about the film was how the story just began, feeling no need to fill-in the back story. And we don’t care. These are two orphans struggling against severe odds, but we don’t hear anything about their parents and how they got where they are. They just are. And things are just the way they are too. No dealing with the what if, just dealing with the what is.
Lovely ending scene. The siblings have had a spat the previous evening. It’s early morning, and Isamar is sitting outside in the post-dawn ignoring Alejandro. He comes out and spreads seeds to gather the pigeons from the sky. As they tentatively start nibbling, Isamar circles them and suddenly stamps her feet. The pigeons fly up into the sky, camera following. Fade to sky. Fade to black. Fade to credits.
This is Bahrani’s second film. And this tells you how much I liked it. I’m hoping to rent his first feature: 2005’s Man Push Cart.