The turnout was small on the evening after Thanksgiving, but our discussion was lively after our library's showing of Chop Shop, an independent film by director Ramin Bahrani. Even our local critic who usually pans every film (often to get a reaction) praised the film.
Chop Shop is set in the Willet's Point corner of Queens, across the expressway from Shea Stadium*, which provides a bright, prosperous contrast to the rusty, dilapidated auto-body shops in which most of the story takes place. Along the broken, flooded street, cars idle bumper to bumper, while drivers negotiate cheap repairs. Twelve-year-old Ale is one of a number of boys waving drivers into shops.
Chop Shop is a film that has a very strong documentary feel, though it is obviously fiction. It just starts and just ends. Viewers never learn how Ale and his sisters came to be orphans living in a rough neighborhood where every kindness is really a calculated act of self-interest. The setting seems like it could not possibly be a movie set. The actors seem like they must be playing themselves.
The film seems so simple, but it drew a strong, mostly sympathetic reaction. While the audience discussed the plight of children, crime, corruption, the economy, and other topics suggested by the film, they mostly wanted to fill in the human story. Some of our viewers were convinced that Ale would soon land in prison, while others thought he would survive and thrive. We spent half an hour in contemplation of what the director intended. Everyone was thankful that they did not live in Willet's Point.
I recommend Chop Shop for library collections and film discussions.
*Of course, Shea Stadium is itself a rundown ballpark, but it seems to glow from afar.