Chop Shop (2008)

Directed by Ramin Bahrani

Alejandro, a tough and ambitious Latino street orphan on the verge of adolescence, lives and works in an auto-body repair shop in a sprawling junkyard on the outskirts of Queens, New York. In this chaotic world of adults, young Alejandro struggles to make a better life for himself and his 16-year-old sister, Isamar.

Reminding me a lot of the recent (and slightly inferior) Tori and Lokita (2002) by the Dardenne brothers, this film foregrounds a young boy who, without being enslaved or being forced to work, turns himself into a good subject of Capital by working in a car 'chop shop', thereby making this—if you can excuse the pun—an "auto-exploitation" flick. Unfortunately, though, the conception, pitch-perfect pacing, screenplay, message, symbolism as well as its subtle allegorical references to The Great Gatsby really deserve better performances than were captured here. The best bits are thus when Ale is simply quiet or making his feelings known through gesture: for instance, when he feeds the pigeons silently in an attempt to reconcile with his sister — he is trying, so to speak, to 'make it rain'. If I could repurpose the wooden performances as a kind of comment on how it turns Ale and Isamar into zombies, then that would be artistic thrust (à la Antonioni's 1962 L'Eclisse), but it ultimately just alienates the viewer from this film reaching the top tier in the form it is realised here. Still, a seamless blend of storytelling and social observation.