Ramin Bahrani's (Man Push Cart
) second feature Chop Shop
is set in Willet's Point, Queens, a desolate land of junk yards and auto garages. On the direct outskirts of Shea Stadium and the U.S. Open, in an alternate, almost apocalyptic universe, scrappy twelve-year-old Alejandro (newcomer Alejandro Polanco) fends not only for himself, but also for his sixteen-year-old sister Isamar (Isamar Gonzales).
They live together in a what passes for a room above an auto body shop. From the moment Alejandro wakes up until the end of the long, hot summer day when he passes out, this kid doesn't stop working. Either he's learning how to repair cars or he's hustling customers on the street; he's selling M&Ms and pirated DVDs, stealing spare parts from cars for cash, and in quiet moments, sweeping the garage's sidewalk, emptying the trash. At only 84 minutes, the film is short, but Alejandro is exhausting to watch.
The boy is fueled by a manic energy, moving so fast and furious, so ridiculously and affectingly hopeful, that it's hard to find time to reflect on what he's missing: school, for instance, or parents, or proper meals or a bath tub, a different shirt to change into than that raggedy blue one with the yellow stripes he's always wearing. An actual childhood. In rare moments, he does play with a friend, but activities that pass as entertainment include watching the whores at a neighborhood truck stop.
What Alejandro does have is a sister. He clings to Isamar and promises her a future in the shape of a mobile-food van that they will fix up and run. Their own business. Their own destiny. It's an actual dream and Isamar buys into Alejandro's frantic optimism. But to look at Isamar, who nearly bursts from her tank tops and tight jeans, is to know there's trouble ahead.
Chop Shop is driven by a sense of impending doom. Alejandro is such a good kid and the adults in his world take everything he has to offer and give little in return. Much to the film's credit, Bahrani doesn't provide the expected tragedy; instead, Alejandro wakes up to face the next day. And the next. You're left to wonder, what will he do, come winter.
Chop Shop has two-week engagement at the Film Forum in New York from February 27 – March 11, 2008.