Chop Shop (2007, Ramin Bahrani)

Bahrani has Iranian heritage but was born in North Carolina, and this movie was clearly made in the USA so it sadly doesn’t count as part of Iranian Month.

I liked it a lot. It’s got the realist approach, child protagonist and hopeful ending of Where Is The Friend’s Home, but set in the auto junkyards in the shadow of Shea Stadium in Queens. Ale(jandro) and older sister Isamar live and work in an auto garage. He hustles cars into the shop and helps the mechanics by day, and sells bootleg DVDs by night; she works a food stand by day and dabbles in prostitution by night. Together they hope to afford a $4500 food-service truck of their own, but after they buy it the dream comes crashing down. The vehicle can be fixed and painted but the kitchen is unusable so they scrap their just-bought truck for $1000 in parts. Meanwhile, Ale finds out his sister is sucking dicks in the parking lot and wonders what to do/think about that.

Whole movie I’m thinking “indie dramas about poor people in poor neighborhoods always ends in tragedy”, but this one didn’t. The truck is a setback, and nobody wants their sister to be a prostitute, but at the end the kids are still together, making money, with friends and a place to live. They’re making plenty, really… doesn’t seem like it took that long to afford the truck. Nobody is physically hurt or killed, Ale’s secret cash stash is never found/stolen, they’re not kicked out of the garage and back on the street, drugs are never mentioned. Not that big a deal, but jeez do movies love to pile on the tragedy when it comes to poor people, so it was refreshing.

Camerawork is nice, all handheld, nothing that stands out except the awesome final shot (Isamar scares pigeons, camera follows pigeons quickly up, lingers on white frame of the sky, then cut to black). I don’t know if everyone read this in the same place or if they’re all just having the same idea, but every time I hear about this movie it’s compared to Italian Neorealism (fair enough) and they say if it wasn’t for the stadium it would be easy to believe it was set in some foreign country. I don’t know what country they’re talking about, and it seems neither do they. Felt pretty American to me. The kids are very good. My favorite part of the movie was Isamar’s voice, actually. Predictably this kid-salesman movie won the “someone to watch” independent spirit award over Munyurangabo (kid movie) and Frownland (salesman movie).