Ramin Bahrani

7.2 Man Push Cart (2005)
7.0 Chop Shop (2007)
7.0 Goodbye Solo (2008)
6.0 At Any Price (2013)
7.4 99 Homes (2014)

Ramin Bahrani (USA, 1975)

The low-budget documentary-style Man Push Cart (2005), inspired by Italian neo-realism, focuses on the material and psychological debris of capitalism from the viewpoint of a low-wage worker who loses everything (wife, son, business and potential girlfriend). The film does not have a proper ending. Or, maybe, it ends where the story started, and we see what happened before the film began: a man with nothing, trying to rebuild his life.

Ahmad is a Pakistani immigrant who makes a living selling coffee and pastry from his tiny wheeled vending push-cart that he sets up in strategic corners of Manhattan. One day a white-collar man introduces himself as a fellow Pakistani, except that he is obviously well-dressed, educated and wealthy. Ahmad is attracted by a young pretty woman who sells cigarettes and magazines from the window of a small kiosk but doesn't say a word to her. Ahmad hasn't seen his son for three months. His son lives with the in-laws. One day the Pakistani businessman offers him work to fix things in his luxury apartment. The businessman recognizes him as a musician who released an album a few years earlier, and offers to introduce him to influential people in the music scene. One night he picks him up from the street and drives him to a karaoke bar where they meet some of his friends. The following day he buys cigarettes again from the cute girl, who recognizes him and asks him for help carrying some heavy boxes. She tells him that she is from Spain and seems to just look for an excuse to get a date. He takes her along to a meeting with one of the Pakistani businessmen who is interested in reviving his singing career. He leaves early, though, indifferent and anemic, leaving the charming girl with the other men. She visits his pushcart in the morning, curious why he left early. She smiles all the time, he is the opposite: always serious and detached. She is friendly, talkative, curious, and a little aggressive. She asks him out again. He is pensive, never smiles, doesn't say anything about himself. She suspects that he is married, and he tells her that his wife died one year earlier. Then he resumes his melancholy lonely routine. He finds an abandoned kitten in the street and takes it home. The businessman invites Ahmad and the girl to a villa by a lake in the woods. He mentions to Ahmad that the girl has a boyfriend in Spain. Ahmad rides back alone in the subway. The businessman asks the girl for a date to the opera after Ahmad confirms that he is not interested in her. Ahmad still works around the businessman's house and sells smuggled videos. The businessman also lends him some money so Ahmad can pay the last installment on the pushcart Ahmad visits his son at the in-laws, but his son doesn't event talk to him. Ahmad's mother-in-law is bitter about her daughter's death, for which she blames Ahmad, and it looks like his son shares the feeling. The kitten dies because Ahmad was keeping it in a small box. The girl is moved to tears and kisses him, but he cannot do it. He is clearly still thinking of his wife. She decides to move back to Spain. He doesn't show any emotion. The following day someone steals his pushcart. Desperate, he looks for help from the man who sold him the pushcart and from the rich businessman, but neither is willing to give him the money he needs. His dream of getting a place for himself and his son is shattered. In the middle of the night an old friend asks Ahmad for help pushing his cart and Ahmad takes his place inside the cart for a while.

Chop Shop (2007) is a neorealist melodrama filmed in the streets of a derelict periphery, amid blue-collar workers and prostitutes. The protagonist is a child who never cries, an orphan who started his life with nothing and doesn't have to complain for it.

The 12-year-old orphan Alejandro lives in the street, selling candies on the subway and looking for low-wage jobs. His little friend Carlos helps him find a permanent job in an auto repair shop. The owner even lets Ale live in the garage, which for Ale is a luxury. His older sister Izzy moves in with him. Ale is a hard-working kid and ready to seize opportunities. When Carlos tells him that his uncle is selling a run-down van, Ale talks his sister into buying it. The van is in terrible conditions but Ale dreams of fixing it up and turning it into a fast-food business. One night Ale and Carlos spot Izzy in a truck. She is obviously negotiating the price and then performing oral sex. Ale is hurt, and stops talking to Carlos, but doesn't say anything to Izzy. Ale doesn't abandon his dream of buying the van, though. He keeps saving money, making money any way he can, and his sister helps. He stores the money in a metal box and hides the box under a rotting floor. One evening Ale and Izzy are having dinner in a restaurant when Izzy's friend Layla shows up. Izzy sees them talking outside the restaurant and then Izzy tells Ale that she has to go. Izzy watches them clearly suspecting that they discussed sex. Nonetheless, Ale keeps selling DVDs and stolen hubcaps to save the money he needs for the van. One night he spies Izzy in the place where prostitutes hang out. He approaches the man she just left, Ahmad, and he makes fun of her performing oral sex. The man then offers him a job in his own garage that keeps him busy till very late. The following morning he is at the usual garage. His sister is worried but Ale hardly talks to her. One night he gets mad at Izzy like a jealous husband. At work he is ever more responsible, even if he is only a child. He even gives quotes to customers for paint jobs. But he is obviously more and more upset at Izzy. One day he steals money from her purse. It's the money he is missing to buy the van. He gives the money to Carlos' uncle and gets the van. Izzy finds out that someone stole her money but Ale blames her friend Layla. Ale gives her the good news. They are both excited when they take possession of the van, but Ahmad tells Ale that the van is useless: Carlos' uncle ripped him off. A furious Ale attacks Carlos, and Ahmad has to stop him before Carlos gets really hurt. Ahmad tells Ale that the best he can do is to sell the van's usable parts, but he stands to lose most of the money. Ale walks to a busy place and snatches a woman's purse, in vain pursued by passers-by. The only valuable is a phone, but he can't find anyone interested in buying it. Izzy sees him trying to sell the phone and guesses that he stole it. When confronted, Ale tells her to go work, and, since it is after hours, that is clearly a reference to her night work. At night he looks for his sister and finds her performing oral sex on a man in a car. He opens the door and attacks the man. Ale and Izzy have to run away. Izzy doesn't want to talk to him, more ashamed than angry. But the following day they are happy again, playing in the street.

Goodbye Solo (2008)

At Any Price (2013)

99 Homes (2014) is a fascinating transposition of the Faust legend (the man who sells his soul to the devil) into the times of an economic recession. The man who sells his soul is not someone who wants to live forever but a man who wants to get his home back after he lost it to a bank. The devil is a man who has learned how to get rich out of other people's tragedies, thanks to the laws of the capitalist society.

In the first scene two police officers and an elegantly-dressed realtor, who doesn't seem to have feelings, are at the scene of a suicide: a man, who owned money, killed himself because the realtor was sent to evict him.
Construction worker Dennis is informed that his employer is going out of business and he will not be paid the last two weeks that he worked. Later he faces a judge who tells him that he is going to lose his home if he doesn't pay his debts. Dennis tries in vain to explain that he needs more time to work out something with the bank. The judge coldly tells him that he has one month to appeal the sentence, like everybody else. His child Connor watches the whole scene. The police don't even wait one month: they come immediately to inform Dennis and his mother Lynn that the house has been foreclosed, i.e. it belongs to the bank. The bank's realtor is behind them to take possession of the home. Dennis and Lynn are technically trespassing and could be arrested, but the cops give them two minutes as a "courtesy" to pick up their valuables and leave the house. Dennis tries in vain to resist but the cops and the bank's realtor are indifferent to his story: they are there only to execute the eviction. Dennis drives his mother and son and the few things that he can fit in his truck to a noisy cheap motel. They are welcomed by a nice family that has been living there for two years, also evicted from their room and initially hopefuly to get it better in a few days. Dennis makes calls all over town looking for a job opening, but obviously the economy is in a recession. The following day Dennis realizes that Rick's men stole his tools, that he needs for his work. He drives straight to Rick's office and demands that they return his tools. Rick ignores him. He has an urgent job to do. Dennis follows him. Rick is mad at his own men. Suddenly, sensing an opportunity, Dennis volunteers to do the job that nobody else wants to do for Rick. Rick pays him good money and, more importantly, is impressed by his determination. Dennis' mom is amazed when she sees the money but Dennis lies to her about who employed him. Rick asked Dennis to do some work around his wonderful mansion, where his three spoiled children play around the swimming pool... what a contrast to his lousy motel room. Rick is constantly threatened by the people he ruined, and always carries a conceiled gun. Rick likes Dennis. Rick tells Dennis that he owns a lot of properties, and explains how he makes a lot of money of other people's financial troubles. Rick starts training him about the nasty job of evicting people. Dennis meets honest families who are in the same situation he himself was in when he couldn't find jobs and pay the bills for his home. Rick warns him not to be soft: "the law is the law". And pays him better than anyone has ever paid him. Rick lectures him on the reality of the capitalist society: he is making more money during an economic crisis than during a good economy. Dennis' goal is to get back his own home. But to earn the money he starts working for Rick, evicting honest families from their homes. And he starts hearing heartbreaking stories very similar to his own. But now he works for the other side. When Dennis has scruples, Rick tells him that he became the cold cynical bastard that he is after seeing his own father being screwed by banks and the system in general. Rick buys Dennis' old home and offers to sell it to Dennis who can pay for it over so many years at a high interest rate. Dennis suffers when he sees families go through the pain he himself went through, but he now has a debt to pay to Rick in order to get his old home back. The economic recession is so bad that there is a virtually infinite number of families deep into debt that are losing their homes; each one is a business opportunity for Rick and therefore Dennis, who now does the dirty work for him. When he sees his friend and neighbor Frank being evicted, Dennis tries to talk him into joining the scheme, but Frank proudly refuses. Meanwhile, the scheme gets bigger and bigger, and Dennis gets richer and richer. He is no longer a blue-collar worker but a white-collar manager. However, they still live in the motel room while their old house is being turned legally to him. One of the families evicted by Dennis ends up in the same cheap motel. The man recognizes Dennis, shouts insults at him in front of everybody, attacks him and threatens his child. His mother is scared and wants to move out right away. Dennis comes up with an elegant solution: sell their old home and buy a much nicer home. His mother and his son are not amused because they realize that he got that nice house by screwing honest families like them. The mother decides to move in with her other son, and the son stays with her. Meanwhile, another former friend enters Dennis' new life: an evicted home owner with wife and children is the only man standing between Rick and a huge deal that would make Dennis rich too. Dennis accepts to deliver a forged document that causes the downfall of this honest man, once a friend. A corrupt judge delivers the sentence in sixty seconds that condemns this family to lose their home. Dennis is under stress because he now lives alone in his new big house. When eviction time comes, this former friend pulls out a gun. The police surround the home. The man is willing to get killed and have his entire family killed rather than surrender his home because of a false accusation. Dennis cannot take it any more and shouts the truth to everybody: that the document was forged. Dennis is also arrested. As Dennis is taken away by the police, Rick thanks Dennis for avoiding a massacre, but Rick knows that his career is probably finished.
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