General Store

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Yenta Production

Apparently made before the 2005 riots in Paris suburbs, Chantal Briet's documentary "General Store" ("Alimentation generale") offers a fascinating, fly-on-the-wall look at people's lives in the kind of dilapidated, multi-ethnic housing projects that bred much of the seething anger that boiled over during the riots. What is really surprising is the genuine harmony among everyone who wanders into Ali Zebboudj's shop.

Young and old, poor or worse, these people from all over Africa and Europe, many with dogs in tow, joke and gripe with good-natured humor. Underneath the surface though, you do sense a growing frustration with those in power who call the shots.

The constant reference is to "they." They have let conditions run down everywhere in the suburban complex. They refuse to remodel the store, which groans and sways in every high wind. They seem to want things to get worse.

Nevertheless, the Arabs, blacks Africans and white Europeans get along. They even encourage Ali in his amateur singing. Old Papi, who dies during filming, gives Ali his own peculiar versions of a massage. Young people literally grow up while coming to his store. And whatever gods people here pray to, these gods listen: After two years, Ali finally gets a brand new store as the movie ends.

If there is any failing here, it is perhaps that the filmmaker should have returned to Ali's store for a follow-up after the riots. How are things going in light of the terror and killings? Still what you do have is a slice of life about groceries and gossip that tells us much about the resilience of the poor in their quotidian struggle.
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