"Man Push Cart" is a very sad movie, though not entirely bleak or depressing. It is the story of Ahmad, a Pakistani man who has immigrated to America and struggles to get ahead while working as a push-cart street vendor. Much of the movie is taken up with long, slow shots of his actual, physical struggle -- Ahmad is renting his cart and doesn't have enough money for a car, so he has to pull the cart across busy New York city streets in the pre-dawn hours, as traffic starts to pick up. Midday, when his coffee and bagels have been sold, he hauls the cart back to the garage, wanders around midtown Manhattan for a while, then takes the subway back to a tiny apart in the outer borroughs, where he briefly sleeps, only to get up at 3:00am and start his daily routine all over again.
The film defies may expectations and cliches... To begin with, Ahmad didn't come to America to "get ahead": as we slowly learn a part of his history, we discover that he was once a popular musician in Pakistan, and that he emigrated here to follow the woman he loved. The story of their marriage and its end is Ahmad's great tragedy, but we are never given the whole story, only glimpses into the past, and the film also never explains Ahmad's reluctance to be a musician again. He never likes talking about it, and when his new acquaintances discover that he was once a famous performer, he simply demurs and avoids discussing it. Others sing in this film, but Ahmad does not. His reluctance talk about himself is explained obliquely -- in one scene, we see him hanging out with some friends, listening impassively as one man trots another in front of a crowd of barflies and insists that he "Tell your story! Tell your story!" For whatever reason, Ahmad doesn't want his life to be reduced to just another story that's told around the bar, as if cataloging his experience would reduce it to nothingness, or wrest control of his own story away from him. He already put himself on display, back in Pakistan, and now, here in America, he chooses to just live his life, not share it with strangers.
Although "Man Push Cart" is a powerful, subtle depictation of the modern immigrant experience, it is also an important commentary on the current climate of "reality"-based media, where average people aspire to be seen on TV, and have their tiniest flaws projected across the landscape of popular culture. Ahmad, who once had actual fame, let go of it for love, and now finding himself at the bottom heap of society, chooses to stay there, anonymous and self-contained. He is not a happy man, but in a strange way, he seems contented.
Apparently his character is being reprised in director Ramin Bahrani's next film, "Chop Shop." Whether more of Ahmad's past will be revealed is uncertain; in some ways, I hope it remains unknown. At any rate, this is a very good film, which you will find engrossing from start to finish. The parts of the story that are unresolved or unknown are actually its greatest strengths, and one of the elements that make this film so distinctive. Highly recommended! (Slipcue film reviews)
'Man Push Cart' is an absorbing slice-of-life movie. Many accolades have been heaped upon it, but it's availablity has been obscure for so long, which is a real shame. I have to admit that I was suspicious from the previews that it would be one of those "noble" entries one finds that becomes drawn out and tedious. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find how accessible and enjoyable this film really is.
Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi) is a typical immigrant protagonist. Coming from Pakistan, he lives and works in New York City, the quintessential immigrant city: One that's filled with opportunity as well as bewildering urban bustle and stress. Like many with ingenuity, he has his own business. He's a street vendor who sells hot beverages to commuters on a busy city street. The portrait of him and his life unfolds along the way in ways that are engaging and colorful.
Soon we find out that he has come to the one year anniversary of his wife's death, and he has been estranged to his son, Sajjad, whom his inlaws have custody. He is a hard worker, like so many immigrants, and this initiative pays off with one customer who hires him to do some work on an apartment. It is during this liason that we learn that Ahmad was famous previously, but I won't divulge the nature here. However, this new business associate gets him some new business for which he was famous, and from here he meets a lovely Spanish immigrant (Leticia Dolera) who becomes his new love interest.
He does what he can, but he seems to have to choose between love and money, welfare and family along the way. He has a friend named Muhammad (Charles Daniel Sandoval) who checks up on him, and from their conversations we pick up on their lives. Reflecting on making ends meet Ahmad says, "[It] Gets harder for people like you and me...What I need to do, I'll do." What makes 'Man Push Cart' so worthwhile is the intimate view of his struggles and motivations--what makes him tick and the decisions he makes to have a better life.
Complications develop and some of the movie borrows a bit from Italy's classic 'The Bicycle Thief,' but the story is so authentically presented that it feels like a documentary of real people than it does a movie rehash. The direction by Ramin Bahrani is excellent for making us walk in the shoes of Ahmad and feel the struggle of his journey.
I thought that "Chop Shop" was among the best movies I've ever seen, so watching "Man Push Cart" seemed to be a logical next step.
The two movies are similar, but there's a key difference: while both movies vividly and poignantly depict the struggles of people in the bottom stratum of society (particularly in urban environments), "Chop Shop" manages to weave in some vitally uplifting elements, whereas "Man Push Cart" is unrelentingly bleak.
I came away from the movie feeling rather sad about the hopeless and perhaps even dehumanizing life represented by the lead character, and I can't think of any lessons I could glean from the movie, other than remembering to have empathy for those less fortunate and to appreciate my own circumstances ... having just said that, maybe these lessons aren't so minor after all? In any case, although this movie isn't a masterpiece like "Chop Shop," I'm still giving "Man Push Cart" four stars because it at least masterfully depicts what it (presumably) intended to depict.
As far as whether I can recommend the movie, that's hard to say. If you're looking for a movie which is at all uplifting, perhaps look elsewhere. If you liked "Chop Shop," maybe give it a try, but keep in mind that "Chop Shop" is far superior (in my opinion). And if you're still not sure, I'd say go ahead and watch the movie; even if you feel sad at the end, the movie provides a powerful experience which is probably worth having.
10/1/09 Amendment: This is among a very small group of movies that continued to powerfully affect me months after I watched them. The Amazon system doesn't let me change my rating, but I wanted to note that I now consider this to be a 5-star movie which I highly recommend.
on August 27, 2011
Slight, simple, but genuinely moving, and astoundingly beautiful
visually for a ultra low budget film shot in 3 weeks on the streets of
A Pakistani immigrant tries to make a living selling bagels and coffee
from a little stand he pushes around and dreams of buying.
That's really the whole story.
But subtly, fragment by fragment, we get glimpses into his life, his
back-story, etc. It's life in bits and pieces adding up to a greater,
much more powerful whole than the sum of it's parts would suggest.
A lovely complex look at the kind of un-glamorous character we too
rarely see in our films.
A side note; if you are at all impressed by director Bahrani's work, I'd
strongly suggest you search out his wonderful short film "Plastic Bag"
which is viewable on YouTube, and other sites on the web (a quick
google will find it). He teamed up with the great Werner Herzog (who
narrates) to tell the first person story of the life of an unwanted plastic
bag in a film that is visually beautiful, very funny, and very sad.
One of the best, non-preachy films on ecology I've ever seen, it
feels like this generation's answer to the classic short "The Red Balloon"
on September 18, 2009
There's been a lot of discussion about the bleak, Sisyphean nature of Ahmad's life and what it tells us about making a living as an immigrant floating somewhere on the margins of American society. I agree that Ahmad works very hard for very little. He toils away at a literally back-breaking job (lacking a car, he pulls his cart to and from his corner every day), hustles bootleg porn for a few extra dollars, and at the end of the day, it looks a lot like two steps forward, one step back. Of course Ahmad is overwhelmed. Of course he's depressed, lonely, and seemingly suffocated by his exhaustion.
This isn't, however, just a film about the hard-won futility of immigrant life; this is a film about grief. Why does Ahmad push his cart and his porn, day in and day out? Yeah, he needs to save up money so that he can reclaim his son. Yeah, he's a recent immigrant in NYC trying to get a foothold on a new life. But I think that Ahmad doesn't simply work through this grind because he has no other choice. He's a famous singer back in Pakistan, young, good-looking, smart, and fluent in English. In the film, he has a few opportunities to improve his situation and bungles them. Ahmad is not constrained by socioeconomic forces; he is constrained by his grief over losing his wife.
The melodramatic view of grief is that it disrupts the flow of everyday life; Ahmad should be shooting up, trying to kill himself, or at least not showing up for work on time. The reality, however, is that not knowing what else to do in the face of substantial loss, we can only think to do what we already know. It's a coping mechanism, and more than just being an immigrant trying to get by, Ahmad is a grief-stricken widow stuck on autopilot. Even if he could move on, he might not want to. What else does he have left of his life with his wife besides this cart and the routine they once shared operating it?
That said, this movie fleshes out these ideas better than any other I've seen in awhile, in a style that's stark and minimalistic, yet realistically nuanced. I felt like the friend who happened to be standing nearby as scenes unfold and picking up on all the stuff that makes us glance away uneasily: the ambivalent body language, the tense innuendos, the ethical gray matter of social conflicts.
(As a bonus, watch out for other little behavioral snapshots this movie captures really well. Two of my favorites: the tense, uneasy stares of New Yorkers waiting for coffee on a cold weekday morning, and the swagger of young city Desis.)
on March 13, 2014
Man Push Cart is a film that was released in 2007 and it deals with the struggle of coming to America in hopes of finding that American Dream that all foreigners see on television. The film highlights the exile of one's country for being limited to the career that a person has. For example the films stars Ahmad Razvi, Leticia Dolera, Charles Daniel Sandoval, and others and we see how the main character was a famous singer in his country, but he is only limited to music in his country. The music in his country only limited him to music in his language instead of music worldwide. Then when we comes to the United States in hopes of making his dreams come true the audience sees how constantly the door is slammed in his face. This causes the character, like any other human being to be discouraged and down, which has made him be very passive to all the consequences that happen to him.
Man in a Push Cart really has to deal with the camera angles and the lighting to reflect on the character in order for the audience to understand that he is a victim. A lot of the camera angles were high so the audience is looking down on him, and when he was pushing the cart the camera angles were far away so the audience can see how hard it is to push a heavy cart everyday through the busy streets of New York. Pushing a cart or hard labor is something no one expects to do when coming to the land of opportunities, but this person we could see the struggles daily by the way the director does the repeatedly scenes of how he wakes up, gets ready, goes to push the cart, and sets up the cart.
What is hard for the audience to witness is that another Pakistanian is living the business life and he is rich while we see this character and hope it is him someday. He is giving and romantic and the audience sees how he loses one thing after another. He loses the girl he wants, and eventually all of his friendship and family. Not being allowed to see his son is a motivation for him to work, but constantly the audience wonders how his wife died. It was mentioned that it was because of his fault, but the audience can openly assume that it may have something to do with his poor living condition, or that her family never wanted them to date.
All in all, this movie through camera angles, lighting, and setting the director, Rahmin Bahrani is able to illustrate a great light on what it actually is to move to the United States for most people.
on June 16, 2009
This fine, fondly made film certanly made a mark with many, nominated for many awards by the Indies; most notably a nomination for the wonderful Ahmad Razvi as Best Actor. His character has issues, none of which is addressed, but he's trying to scratch out a life in his adopted country. This is America, he cries, which is supposed to be the answer to his dreams and quash his past memories. Unfortunately, his past is only referred to, and we really don't know the real Ahmad, except that he has powerful integrity. I was riveted by the trials and tribulations, but there was only a surface explanation of the man's intense motivations, and very little mention of the tragedy regarding his wife and son. The Indies also nominated it for cinematography, but the film is mostly shot at night, and it was difficult to see most of what was going on; maybe it was only my DVD player. The whole ordeal ended with no resolve, which may have been the intention; perhaps the idea that people come here for release or escape. To forget... Regardless, the film may be many things, but Ahmad's character needed a resolve that wasn't there. I liked him. I would like to know if he was happy...
I was browsing my local library the other day for a good movie to watch and stumbled upon this. I took a quick glance at the premise of the movie, which sounded intriguing enough for me, so I picked it up. So glad I did.
"Man Push Cart" (2005 release; 87 min.) brings the story of Ahmed, a Pakistani immigrant who sells coffee and breakfast from a push cart on the busy streets of Manhattan. As the movie opens, we see Ahmed getting ready at a very early hour for another long, hard day of selling breakfast. We see his regulars stopping by, and then also a new guy who immediately surmises that Ahmed is Pakistani, as he himself is also from Lahore, Pakistan. Even though the men are at very different ends of the economic (and social) spectrum, they start hanging out some, and eventually the man recognizes Ahmed from his days in Pakistan when Ahmed was a very successful rock singer ("the Bono of Pakistan!", the man comments). In a parallel story, we get a peek into Ahmed's family situation, and he also befriends Noemi, an immigrant from Barcelona working at a nearby newsstand. To tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: first, as I started watching this, it wasn't clear to me whether this was a documentary or a fiction movie, that's how authentic this feels. It was actually a relief when I realized that it is fiction, as one cannot help but feel sorry for Ahmed's circumstances in life in general. Second, the movie plays out in Manhattan mostly, but also in Brooklyn and Queens, and as such the city of New York plays a huge role in the overall feel of the movie, with a rather harsh look (somehow reminiscent of "Taxi Driver"). Third, kudos to writer-director Ramin Bahrani for bringing us this slice of life, taking his time to developing the various characters and plot lines. This movie is definitely not for anyone in a hurry. Lastly, shouldn't the movie's title be "Man Pull Cart"? I mean, Ahmed actually never "pushes" the cart, but always pulls it.
Bottom line: if you are in the mood for a character study that is MILES away from your standard Hollywood fare, you cannot go wrong with this. "Man Push Cart" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
on September 23, 2013
Just thinking about the main character here called up Jack Johnson's 'Where did the good people go'; right here Jack.
From Wikipedia 'According to Frederick Karl: "The man who struggled to reach the heights only to be thrown down to the depths embodied all of Kafka's aspirations; and he remained himself, alone, solitary."
I thought five stars, but after going through it again with the director's commentary on I decided on a little restraint.
To make lemonade one simply must have lemons: the lemons here include talent and connections. It is clear from the director's commentary that many people contributed to this for free, or for small money. So the connections were instrumental and it seems they included more than a few Pakistanis. After running this up the flagpole there was a lot of saluting.
Bahrani mentions Cassavetes' 'Chinese Bookie' and European films but does not exude a fondness for products of the Dream Factory. He also mentions Sisyphus several times. Most apt, though I thought of the Via Dolorosa.
For me, the director has achieved his goal of improving life by illustrating the importance of living it in the direction of one's true values. Other work by Mr. Bahrani is similarly worthwhile, including the recent more mainstream seeming 'At Any Price' with Dennis Quaid.
on October 14, 2007
Over the years, certain films dig in and tell an insightful story that enlightens viewers about an ethnic group or an ethnic experience that in the end turns the film into a classic. Man Push Cart is one of these films.
Telling the story of a Pakistani man who comes to NYC, after being a rock star in his home town, the film centers on what it is like to be a push cart man in a city that still has push carts as a major part of every day life. It's a tough existence, and Man Push Cart details it well while it also portraits the man's personal life and his hopes for a better one as well.
Dramatically well produced, Man Push Cart is not light fare. It's a deep and insightful film that is well worth the view whether you are into NYC life, Pakistani life or the life of the many Push Cart peddlers that work hard day in and day out to survive in a city that does not make it easy.
I highly recommend this film for all who like to 'think'.