Chop Shop 2007
Unrated | 1h 24min | Drama | 27 February 2008 (USA)
Alejandro, a resourceful street orphan on the verge of adolescence, lives and works in an auto-body repair shop in a sprawling junkyard on the outskirts of Queens, New York. In this chaotic world of adults, Alejandro struggles to make a better life for himself and his sixteen-year-old sister.
Chop Shop, the second feature from Ramin Bahrani, is a rare breed. It is an American film that tells a story not usually found in American cinema, the story of the of a minority living in poverty. It is a work of simple beauty. Shot on location in Queens, New York in the shadows of Shea Stadium, Chop Shop is neo-realism to the core. Featuring a cast of non-actors, it has more in common with Vittorio De Sica’s classic Bicycle Thieves than anything made in the United States. There is no score or soundtrack, all the music and sounds are diagetic. Watching it feels like watching a great foreign film, it takes us to another world because it is so uncommon to see. However this other world is not post-World War II Rome or Istanbul or New Delhi, it is contemporary New York City.
Bahrani tells the story of Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco), better known as Ale. He is a 12-year-old Latin-American kid with no parents or family unit to watch after him. He lives in a tiny room upstairs in the auto shop that he also works at. He shares the same bed with his teenage sister Isamar (Isamar Gonzales). Neither of them have made it passed second grade. Ale, though young, is tough and mature. He acts as the head of the small family. He hooks his sister up with a job, and he himself does anything he can to make a buck when not working at the chop shop. He sells bootleg DVDs on the streets and candy in subways. He searches for scrap auto parts and sells them to the many auto shops lining the street where he lives.
Alejandro is heartbroken when he learns his sister is working nights as a prostitute. He himself becomes progressively disinterested in abiding by the law. He begins to steal, first car parts and later wallets. Like Antonio, the desperate protagonist in Bicycle Thieves, we cannot blame Ale for becoming a thief. It is merely survival. Ale and Isamar save up in hopes of buying a food vending van for $4,500. They see the van as their way out, and there is much optimism. However, as is usually the case in neo-realism, we know this will only lead to disappointment.
Polanco’s riveting performance is what gives legitimacy to Chop Shop’s realism. Here is a 12-year-old character that needs to be believably independent and vulnerably naive. Whether he is directing cars to the shop, selling movies and Snickers bars or playing with his sister in their scanty room, it is authentic.
Chop Shop is a sobering reminder that not all American children grow up in a land of opportunity. Ale’s lifestyle is what many in middle-class white America consider ‘third world’. They act cognizant the poverty and deprivation in foreign lands while sipping their coffee and reading the New York Times on Sunday morning, but make themselves blind to it on their own streets. Once you watch Chop Shop, you will think differently of the kids peddling candy on the subway.
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Writers: Bahareh Azimi, Ramin Bahrani
Stars: Alejandro Polanco, Isamar Gonzales, Rob Sowulski
Release Date: 27 February 2008 (USA)
Filming Locations: Queens, New York City, New York, USA
Format : Matroska
Format version : Version 4
File size : 1.62 GiB
Duration : 1 h 24 min
Overall bit rate : 2 759 kb/s