It's a Living
"Neo-realist" is perhaps the best word to describe Ramin Bahrani's feature film debut, Man Push Cart, in which a Pakistani immigrant, Ahman (Ahmad Razvi), struggles to make a living by selling food from a pushcart on the streets of New York. The details of his life are presented almost as a mystery in which hints and pieces are revealed to us little by little, but his background (one of the first things we learn is that he used to be a star singer in his home country) and how he got here isn't as important as what he's now doing just to get by.
The movie is a snapshot of one immigrant's downtrodden attempt at making an honest living in America and of his right to pursue the one he sees fit for himself. Along the way he meets a patronizing benefactor and a potential romantic interest, but neither can significantly change his path. Man Push Cart is a stark and honest film, a noble attempt to give us a look at one of the regular people who populate our civilization, one of the guys we may see everyday but would be otherwise totally unfamiliar with.
Though sympathetically humanist, this film also seems withering in a way, since Ahman is presented as quite a sad sack, and any veteran film watcher surely wouldn't expect the fellow's situation to improve by the end of the movie. Bahrani would next tackle pretty much the same material with a shifted locale and a much younger naive protagonist in Chop Shop, which I feel is the better movie because it gets across a similar message, but with more vivacity.
(Released by Koch Lorber Films; not rated by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.