Ramin Bahrani’s stellar and often brilliant drama is very much a post 9/11 film about the immigrant experience, the “America Dream,” and the promise of perpetual poverty. In a country that doesn’t even grant its born citizens a chance at higher quality of life, what hopes do immigrants have? Ramin Bahrani’s indie hit “Man Push Cart” focuses primarily on Ahmad, a young man who is working toward a big goal that always seems so painfully out of his grasp. Like everyone in America, he works until he can barely stand, and he does it every single day without complaining.
“Man Push Cart” is more about the American dream, and the hole most of the lower class find themselves in, no matter how tough they work day in and day out. Character Ahmad gets up every dawn and drags a heavy cart to his street corner, sells food to patrons all morning, and takes solace in small pleasures his life affords him. Before he can even collect himself, he’s back up the next morning doing it all over again. Much of “Man Push Cart” explores how Ahmad is so focused on his goal to enrich his life, and the potential that he may never get there, no matter how hard he tries. He’s not looking for wealth or to become a celebrity. He lives in a small apartment and is forbidden from seeing his son thanks to in-laws, and desperately wants to improve his life so he can live independently with his child.
But everything gets in the way in the most unusual way possible, especially in the climax. Director Bahrani doesn’t particularly fill the film with heavy narrative, instead dwelling on the painful monotony and loneliness of Ahmad’s life. He deals with people and is so utterly disconnected from his world, and the one chance he did have at elevation was taken away from him. There isn’t any real emphasis on how he became a music star in his country and why he moved to America and forced in to his lifestyle. Frankly it’s unimportant as Ahmad is pushed in to all corners in his life facing a life he wish he had through another Pakistani young man he meets who lives a wealthy life in Manhattan.
And he’s faced with a life that he could have, as he meets a young Spanish girl working at a newsstand who he forms a gradual romance with. They’re both outcomes of what many may consider an idealistic life, but the more he delves in to the circumstances, the more he realizes it’s not what he might want. Especially as they seem fraught with complicating an already exhausting life. There isn’t a ton of optimism in “Man Push Cart” and there really is no place for it in the narrative. Ahmad is only one of the millions of New Yorkers looking for a purpose in the land of opportunity, and he’ll keep pushing that cart until he fulfills it. Which sadly always seems a bit more out of reach day by day.
The Blu-Ray from Criterion comes with a Commentary featuring director Ramin Bahrani, director of photography Michael Simmonds, assistant director Nicholas Elliot, and actor Ahmad Razvi. The Formation of a Filmmaker is a nineteen minutes conversation between director Ramin Bahrani and critic Hamid Dabashi with to discuss early cultural and cinematic influences. At twenty four minutes, Against All Odds: Making “Man Push Cart” features Bahrani, assistant director Nicholas Elliot, and actor Ahmad Razvi, all of whom come together to have a discussion about their experiences making the film, which includes the struggles of actually moving the cart, and an FBI encounter reflecting the shakiness of the time.
There’s Backgammon the eleven minutes Ramin Bahrani 1998 short film focused on a young girl looking to challenge her grandfather to a game. Finally there’s the original trailer. Among physical elements, the release comes with a booklet with insightful essays by critic Bile Ebiri.