I went back to this earlier Ramin Bahrani film, after seeing the follow-up: Chop Shop. The earlier film is less brash, more melancholy, but every bit as reflective of the human struggle as Chop Shop. Man Push Cart is a stripped down title for a stripped down film.
Ahmad is a push cart vendor in New York where he gets up in the middle of the night every working day to get ready for the early morning coffee and bagel push. We see Ahmad loading up his cart for the day and heading out to his assigned corner. Since he doesn’t have a truck to haul his cart, he has to bull it every day through the traffic. It looks back-breaking. We see this three or four times at least, each time expecting that he’ll lose control of his cart, and see his livelihood in a runaway smash-up. But he never does (almost once). The struggle with the cart is an obvious Sisyphean reference, but it works. We see Ahmad alone in his apartment, petting the stray cat he picked up, or selling off a few bootleg DVD’s after he closes up his cart. And he’s never without his ubiquitous propane tank which he seems to lug everywhere,
He’s had a personal tragedy, having lost his wife somehow. And there are references to his former life as a “rock star” in Iran. But as in Chop Shop, this back story is almost immaterial. The daily struggle, the hand to mouth existence, is the story here.
He meets a young girl from Barcelona who is filling in at a newsstand. They seem to have a spark of recognition, but Ahmad seems too worn down by life to make a connection with her. In this subsistence world, there’s no time to live life, there’s only time to live for another day. And do it all over again.