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It was interesting to have started watching Ramin Bahrani’s oeuvre with 2009’s “Goodbye Solo”, and following up with the early films later. Both “Man Push Cart” and “Chop Shop” are very different from “Solo” in that they refuse the idea of a “plot”, they do not allow the audience to witness that one terribly exciting or sad or devastating or happy event in the life of the protagonist – what they do is highlight these lives for a short while, and then look away again and allow those guys to carry on with what they are doing, the happy bits and the less happy bits.

The setting of Chop Shop is almost romantic, at least from the perspective of a little boy the age of Alejandro, our “hero”. He is part of a family of cool dudes, car repair shop owners and workers, truckers, movers and shakers of their own little businesses in some run-down part of Queens. Ale can feel very cool and grown up, can play along with the big dudes, he can even pretend to be the head of the little family consisting of himself and his sexy older sister.

He will find out, of course, that this cool life is not so cool, after all, but that there is a reason why nobody would pick it unless he or she has to. Dreams fall apart, facades crumble, and nobody has the right to blame anybody else for anything, because everybody has his / her own skeletons in the closet. That’s hard to process for a cool guy who at the end of the day is still a little boy who learns about grown up life every day.

Bahrani seems to be a master of casting. After the Pakistani coffee cart sales guy in “Man Push Cart”, his ensemble here is wider, but equally classy in a casual way. I have no idea how to find actors who can do what the script requires while still maintaining this street life grit and edges, but here they are. Not just Ale, but also his sister, his little boy friend, his boss, the guy from the competing shop opposite… most have small parts to play, but they all contribute to a fantastically realistic (from what I can judge) and natural chop shop biosphere. Great and intimate film making!

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