Cinema Signal:

New Immigrants in New York
by Nancy Foner


. "Man Push Cart"

A man pushes, pulls and guides a glittering wagon on wheels through the early morning streets of Manhattan. Every morning, before dawn. It's a laborious task, what with the unevenness of the road, but he's young, strong and able, and doesn't complain. He just tugs and controls his rolling object with a high center of gravity as cars, buses and garbage trucks flow around him. But, can this be equated with Sisyphus, a man condemned to spend his mortal life rolling a rock to the top of a mountain in penance for his sins?

It's probable that writer-director Ramin Bahrani, a native of North Carolina, had the symbology in mind because it's the best explanation for the downbeat, depressing nature of his character and the film.

Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi) is, indeed, a sorrowful man. The sorrow doesn't come from the daily burden he bears as a street vendor of light food and hot drinks for the passing crowd nor for his comedown to street level from rock star fame in Pakistan, where he's from but, rather, from the loss of his beautiful wife in a tragedy. The overwhelming depth of this loss is made evident by his inability to connect with Noemi (Liticia Dolera, "Imagining Argentina"), a Spanish beauty he has met who, in time, makes her emotional regard for him clear. In the act of trying to respond to her physical invitation he discovers his inability to transfer his only love to another woman. He's an able-bodied man lost in emotionally crippling memories.

Quite capably done in technical terms, Bahrani and cinematographer Michael Simmonds put their cinematic skill on display with so much nighttime realism. The documentary flavor in dialogue and a setting that appears not entirely controlled (of course it is) lends the film a sense of spontaneity, aided by its first time actor who is in almost every frame. A certain lack of training might be evident but it becomes a plus for him in his ability to pull off what amounts to a sypathetically good choice for the role.

The film was shown at Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival but all reasons for its qualification there are likely to continue in its general release, stemming from the clear choices Bahrani made in the development of his story. He has himself to blame for his creation's limited commercial prospects. And, while I don't agree with the wisdom of tying into a Greek myth, I would offer him a nudge of praise for the skill and truthful energy pushing his creative cart.

It's for the arthouse, and worth seeing.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner 
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Ahmad Razvi as an ex-Pakistani rock star,
down to street level.
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