I don’t usually do recommendations of the week; heck often I don’t do recommendations at all. But after the exhiliration of wall to wall documentary at the Full Frame Festival, I settled in last night, as I am wont to do, to catch up on a film I know I should have seen earlier, but was watching something else at the time.
Ramin Bahrani’s film ‘Man Push Cart’ is deceptively simple. It’s about a man struggling to make a living in America. This struggle prevents him from making a life. He’s from Pakistan, and we see the ties that bind his ethnic community – everyone knows each other, but unlike some romanticised visions of immigration (‘The Godfather’ is an interesting example), they don’t always help each other.
Ahmad sells coffee and bagels in Manhattan. People are often friendly to him. Some are not. He used to have family, home, money. Now he doesn’t.
‘Man Push Cart’ is so well crafted that it’s almost too slick – and there are some potentially unsubtle notes in an otherwise sparse and thoughtful script. But – and this is why it is my recommendation of the week (there may never be another such recommendation, so listen carefully ;-)) – it is a supremely confident piece of early work from a director whom Roger Ebert has just pronounced the ‘new great American director’.
It feels like real life.
It starts before we see anything; and the characters live on after the fade out. It doesn’t do much more than tell an honest story of struggle – mingling questions of the diversity of US society, the barriers between cultures, and the death-dealing of privatised capitalism vs. communitarianism. If, as my co-host on The Film Talk, Jett Loe has come to believe, ‘staged cinema’ is dying, ‘Man Push Cart’ rages against this, because although it is a work of constructed fiction, it feels like a documentary. It doesn’t offer anything easy; and challenges us to live more humanely. Given that such a challenge has become one of my litmus tests for the meaning of art, ‘Man Push Cart’ succeeds where others fear to tread.
Update: Please note spoilers follow in comments below.