Man Push Cart
2006, NR, 87 min. Directed by Ramin Bahrani. Starring Ahmad Razvi, Leticia Dolera, Charles Daniel Sandoval, Ali Reza, Farooq Mohammad.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 5, 2007
Remember the music video for David Bowie's "Let's Dance"? And the memorable shot of the young aboriginal worker grimacing with effort as he struggles to tow some ponderous chunk of machinery through a car-snarled metropolitan intersection? There's no dancing for that immigrant (or native, more likely), nor is there any for Ahmad (Razvi) the main character in Man Push Cart, who is likewise saddled with the unenviable lot of the new arrival in the big, bad city. Hailing from Pakistan, where he was, of all things, a celebrated rock & roller, Ahmad is now reduced to lugging around a mammoth silverized snack cart, the kind that really ought to be attached to the rear of an automobile or a couple of oxen. No such luck for Ahmad, however, since he's barely able to pay off the note on his cart, much less shell out for a new Chrysler or even a third-hand Yugo. It's through his eyes that we see Manhattan, often in the dark hours before the city that never sleeps awakens, and it is a rough-and-tumble world, full of small triumphs that are almost immediately rendered moot by much larger disasters. Everything is precarious, all the time. Iranian-born filmmaker Bahrani has patterned Ahmad's travails on the myth of Sisyphus, although Ahmad's Job-like lot feels more like Sisyphus' backbreaker twinned with Hercules' outsized tasks. This is a small gem of a film, about a small man doing small things in a very, very, very large world. In between selling bagels and, on the sly, porno DVDs from his cart, Ahmad finds little time for what most of us would call a life. A possible romance with the Hispanic woman (Dolera), who works at her uncle's newsstand across the way, flares into existence, but only just. Another, far more successful Pakistani immigrant, Mohammad (Sandoval), who knew Ahmad back in the old country, turns up as a romantic rival. Man Push Cart is a minimalistic film in all senses: There's no plot to speak of, other than Ahmad's daily, hourly, moment-by-moment workaday grind, and while that may sound deadly dull, Bahrani's documentarylike direction and editing, coupled with the raw, honest acting of Razvi, manages to make even the most mundane of existences something altogether out of the ordinary. Bahrani parcels out nuggets of backstory as though they were water in the desert, which serves to keep the viewer engaged and intrigued. We know his wife is dead, but we don't know how or why his only child is now estranged from him and living with the in-laws, and it's questions like these – arising organically in the midst of offhanded, seemingly pointless conversations – that make Man Push Cart a slow-burn stunner, where nothing much of consequence happens, except life itself. AFS@Dobie