Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/17/08
Written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, Man Push Cart tells the story of a Pakistani immigrant who spends his life in New York City dragging a heavy food cart in the city's streets selling food and such. During this moment of struggle, the man ponders his existence and wonders if he'll ever escape his own fate. Shot on location in New York City, the film is an eerie tale of struggle and alienation while the story is also based on The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. Starring Ahmad Razvi, Leticia Dolera, and Charles Daniel Sandoval. Man Push Cart is a wonderful little film from Ramin Bahrani about a man trying to find his footing in a huge city.
A man named Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi) throughout the part of his life, works and drags a huge cart in the middle of New York City every late at night only to work in the morning in a corner in midtown NYC. Often going through the same customers everyday, Ahmad would finish his shift in the afternoon while dragging his cart back to the same place he picks it up. On the side, he sells bootleg porn films to fellow Pakistani workers either working in newsstands or taxi cabs. He takes a train home to Brooklyn at night to go to sleep in the few hours he have. What is more surprising is that years ago, he was a rock star in his native Pakistan. That is something that a fellow Pakistani businessman named Mohammed (Charles Daniel Sandoval) seems to be baffled by when he recognized him and gave him a job painting his apartment.
One of the main reasons Ahmad works in a cart selling bagels, coffee, juice, and tea for a living is to help give child support to his son who is living with his in-laws. Yet, his mother-in-law refuses to see him or give support to a child. One day when Ahmad stops at a usual newsstand to get a packet of cigarettes, a woman named Noemi (Leticia Dolera) works there replacing a guy he knew. They befriend each other as Ahmad is suddenly invited to gatherings by Mohammed where he takes Noemi along. Mohammed has plans to revive Ahmad's music career but the former rock singer is unsure as he is more consumed by the work he has to do. Even as he hopes to own the cart he has which is more than just a heavy cart he drags around.
After finding a little kitten in the street on his way home, the little kitten becomes a friend that he takes care of while often hanging out with Noemi as they talk about a few things including her life back in Barcelona, Spain. Yet, when Mohammed decides to get Ahmad back in the life of riches and stuff, Ahmad becomes reluctant as he all he has to work for is work pushing a cart and stuff. Yet, a night working with Mohammed proves to be non-fulfilling as he gives up the job and prefers to work at his cart. Then when a simple moment of getting something for his son, the one thing that Ahmad works for is suddenly taken away as he wonders what does he have to do.
In this simple little film by Ramin Bahrani, one can compare to Ahmad's misfortunes to the classic Vittorio de Sica neo-realist film The Bicycle Thief. While the story and plot is simple, the film is really a study of this man who had it all as a rock star in his native Pakistan. Yet, the big questions are how far did he have to fall down by dragging a cart in the middle of New York City? Why couldn't he revive his music career in NYC? Why is he being blamed for the tragic death of his wife? Why does this cart mean so much to him? Why is he reluctant to catch a break that would help financially and more? That is something the audience, the film's writer/director, and maybe the character of Ahmad is trying to figure out. Some of these questions do kind of get answered but there's also questions that remain unanswered.
Ahmad is a character who is trying to do the best he can as an immigrant while getting little time to chat with fellow friends and immigrants going through the same struggles in New York City. Sure, it will take him years to probably own the cart and maybe pay for its insurance. Still, what is strange about his situation is that he seems somewhat content working in a cart, going by doing that job while selling bootleg DVDs on the side. While a character like Noemi might seem to understand and sympathize with his struggles and disappointments, Mohammed doesn't because of yuppie lifestyle and whether his promises may be well-intended. He truly doesn't understand what Ahmad or other immigrants are going through in day-to day life.
Bahrani's study of character is wonderfully helmed by his direction. Shot in three-weeks and through hidden cameras that is reminiscent of European post-war cinema, the film has an improvised feel that gives the film its realism. Though the pacing at 87 minutes might be slow, particularly in the first 15 minutes in telling Ahmad's day-to-day life. It's deliberate to understand his world as Bahrani, serving as the film's editor, conveys the sluggish pacing that Ahmad goes through in life. The direction overall is superb as it has a very low-budget feel as Bahrani shot the film with a small crew. The resulting work has an independent film that is never sentimental, never dramatized, and most of all, doesn't have anything phony in terms of suspense and storytelling.
Cinematographer Michael Simmonds does a fantastic job with the film's photography, notably the nighttime and morning sequences to show the moody yet strange world that is NYC. Art director Charles Dafler does a good job in showing the contrasting worlds of Ahmad in his little apartment to the posh, yuppie world of Mohammed with costume designer Elena Kouvaros doing an excellent job showing that contrast in the look in its clothing. Sound editor Abigail Savage does a fine job in capturing the intense atmosphere that is NYC in all of its sounds of car horns and tires on the pavement. Music composer Peyman Yazdanian brings a wonderfully moody score that is in a traditional, Pakistani-flute style that almost sounds electronic to convey the melancholic mood of Ahmad.
The film's cast which consists of unknowns and non-professional actors is superb with performances from Arun Lal and Razia Mujahid as Ahmad's in-laws, Hassan Razvi as Ahmad's son (supposedly, his real-life son), Ali Reza as Mohammed's friend Mannish, and Panicker Upendran as Noori, a friend of Ahmad who also works in a cart that he drags with his van. Charles Daniel Sandoval is good as the yuppie Mohammed who is a man that hopes to revive Ahmad's career yet his intentions are unclear as he has trouble understanding Ahmad's immigrant status. Leticia Dolera is excellent as Noemi, a Spanish woman working at newsstand who sympathizes Ahmad's situations while being confused by Mohammed's own intentions into taking her out.
Finally, there's Ahmad Razvi in a very low-key, non-dramatic performance as Ahmad. Razvi’s performance is superb in the way he acts towards the situations he's in and what's more surprising is how subtle is in the performance. There's a realism and sadness to what Razvi brings yet it's a performance that is unforgettable.
Man Push Cart is a wonderful gem of a film from Ramin Bahrani that is helmed by a fantastic performance from Ahmad Razvi. Fans of films about immigrants or fans of very small yet poignant independent films will enjoy this while more mainstream audiences should give this film a chance. It's a very realistic film about what immigrants go through working in NYC and how content they are in some ways in this role. It's a powerful film and it's a must-see.
Ramin Bahrani Films: Chop Shop - Goodbye Solo - Plastic Bag - At Any Price - 99 Homes - (Fahrenheit 451 (2018 film)) - The Auteurs #55: Ramin Bahrani
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