Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Man Push Cart

Man Push Cart (2005, 87 minutes)
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Cast: Ahmad Razvi, Leticia Dolera, Charles Daniel Sandoval, Ali Reza, Farooq "Duke" Muhammed

Ramin Bahrani wrote and directed "Man Push Cart," and Ahmad Razvi plays a pushcart operator on the streets of Manhattan. Their film, and the story of its making, symbolizes the Sundance spirit. Bahrani was born in Iran, Razvi in Pakistan, both are now Americans, and theirs is an American movie about American lives.
- capsule by Roger Ebert

I watched this movie last night and really liked it. It defines the term "slice-of-life" film. Like Seinfeld it's ostensibly about nothing - a Pakistani guy (Ahmad Razvi) who used to be a rock star in his homeland is reduced to selling coffee and donuts from his pushcart in Manhattan, finds a kitten, drinks beer, tries to connect with his estranged son, awkwardly flirts with a Spanish girl (the beautiful Leticia Dolera, who is like an Hispanic version of Claudine Longet)- but below the surface brews a meditation on cultural identity, love, loneliness and loss. Star Ahmad Razvi has a face and a presence made for movies; you want to watch him. At first I thought I was fascinated only because he bore an uncanny resemblance to Baltimore writer Rafael Alvarez (a young Rafe, that is, like the picture below left), but it's more than that.

Rafael Alvarez vs. Ahmad Razbvi

There's a brooding sadness and resignation in his eyes, like baggy-eyed Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini. (Interestingly, in his two films to date - Chop Shop and Man Push Cart - Ahmad Razvi plays a character named...Ahmad! No identity crisis there!)

And in going about his tedious toil without complaining, Razvi evokes the quiet dignity in labor. Other Pakistani expats are portrayed as well-heeled Yuppies who have become so Westernized (there's a lot of beer drinking, for one thing) there's nothing remotely native about them anymore, while the hard-working pushcart operators seem more admirable and true to their roots.

As far as the story arc goes, you wait for something to happen, but nothing much happens...well, other than "Man pushing cart." And while there's no big pay-off by the film's end, I found it endlessly watchable. Two shorts films, "Bad Reception" and "Dogs" are extra features and they're like the feature - slice-of-life. Nothing much happens. Or does it?


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