Chop Shop: Film Review

Impressively carried by nonactor Alejandro Polanco, the film should serve to further Ramin Bahrani's reputation as a director with a promising future ahead of him.

Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani has followed up his well-received Man Push Cart with another penetrating portrait of life on the outskirts of New York.

Very much of the Ken Loach school of social realism, Chop Shop is revealed through the mature-beyond-his-years, unblinking eyes of a 12-year-old Latino street orphan who scrapes together an existence working and living at one of the dozens of auto-body repair shops lining the fringes of Queens.

Impressively carried by nonactor Alejandro Polanco, the film -- screening at the AFI Fest as well as at this year's Festival de Cannes and Toronto International Film Festival -- should serve to further Bahrani's reputation as a director with a promising future ahead of him.

Located in the shadow of Shea Stadium, the area known as the Iron Triangle is a 75-acre stretch of scrap yards and car-repair joints where customers don't ask about the origin of their required parts in return for deep discount pricing.

It's here that the enterprising Alejandro has managed to carve out a living, steering fresh arrivals to his boss' garage and running errands while hawking DVDs and candy bars on the side.

He also manages to secure a job working in a lunch wagon for his 16-year-old sister, Isamar (Isamar Gonzales), sharing his cramped, unfinished room above the garage with her.

Much to Polanco's displeasure, Isamar is supplementing her income by turning tricks with truck drivers, but she ultimately buys into his dream of purchasing a rusted out roach coach and starting a business of their own.

Collaborating on the story with Nice, France-based writer Bahareh Azimi, Bahrani has etched a intriguing portrait of a fragment of society that would have otherwise gone unnoticed by the casual onlooker.

With young Polanco's fiercely determined, affecting performance leading the way, his fellow cast of nonprofessionals infuse this industrial wasteland with a surprising communal vitality, as Bahrani and his cinematographer Michael Simmonds (Jesus Camp) allow a welcome glimmer of hope to shine through that dusty, exhaust-ridden air.

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