Reviews

Man Push Cart

Chris McCann

By the end of this quietly mesmerizing meditation on hope and disillusionment, you're left soaked -- and impressed by how much Iranian-born Bahrani can do with so little.


Man Push Cart

Director: Ramin Bahrani
Cast: Ahmad Razvi, Leticia Dolera, Charles Daniel Sandoval
Distributor: Koch Lorber
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Films Philos
First date: 2005
US DVD Release Date: 2007-10-09
When I’m filming, I never say "action" because action means end reality, begin filming and "cut" means, cut acting and welcome back to reality. For me, it’s the opposite. I don’t want reality to end. -- Interview with Ramin Bahrani on Gothamist .com

You could turn Man Push Cart off after the first ten minutes and have a good idea of what Ramin Bahrani is trying to accomplish with his 2005 character study. But that would be a shame because the true heart of the film is in the details that accumulate like softly falling rain throughout its 87 minutes. By the end of this quietly mesmerizing meditation on hope and disillusionment, you're left soaked -- and impressed by how much Iranian-born Bahrani can do with so little.

Director of a few shorts (two of which are included as unremarkable extras with this DVD) and one full-length (Strangers, a road-trip movie set in southern Iran), Bahrani says he felt drawn to the subject of an immigrant working at one of New York’s ubiquitous coffee carts after the attacks of September 11 and the subsequent bombing of Afghanistan. In an interview with New York magazine about the genesis of the project, Bahrani says, “When Bush began to bomb Afghanistan, I realized that all the Afghans I’d ever known were pushcart vendors in New York City. Then I began to think of Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus, and pushing these carts seemed like a modern-day version.”

The first moments of the film perfectly convey the Sisyphean task facing Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi), a Pakistani pushcart vendor, as he rises each morning in the dark to stock his cart before pushing (and pulling) it to his assigned corner. He leases both the truck and the spot and is years away from paying either of them off. In near silence, we watch Ahmad wake up, take the train from Queens into Manhattan, stock his cart with baked goods and coffee, and then begin the arduous journey to his corner. He drags the heavy cart along the street, nearly being hit on countless occasions by buses, trucks, and taxis. Several times throughout the course of the film, the cart gets away from him and he has to set his own insignificant body weight against the behemoth of metal gathering speed. It’s exhausting just watching it. And Bahrani returns to these images of Ahmad and his cart again and again throughout the film.

Bahrani met Ahmad Razvi, nearly 10 years ago while Razvi was working as a pushcart vendor in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. Although Man Push Cart was his first acting role, he’s a natural for the part, which requires a restraint and taciturnity that occasionally give way to a misplaced, heartrending optimism. In the film, Ahmad struggles constantly against insurmountable odds. After his wife died (a year before the film begins), his in-laws took custody of his young son because Ahmad couldn’t raise him while working all day. Now, the boy barely interacts with his father and the in-laws clearly blame Ahmad for his wife’s death.

Once a popular singer in Pakistan, now Ahmad rises before dawn and lugs his pushcart through the indifferent streets of the city, while selling pirated DVDs on the side. By the end of the film, everything he’s tried so hard to attain (and, indeed, maintain) has somehow, casually, slipped through his grasp. Throughout his trials, however, Razvi endures with a kind of dogged resolve that is both admirable and heartbreaking.

The strength of Man Push Cart lies in its attention to detail, especially the details of Manhattan’s cityscape. Bahrani lingers over the mostly nighttime shots of light -- neon signs, incandescent bulbs, pulsating strobes, and occasional moonlight -- as it plays against skyscrapers that dwarf Ahmad and his cart. Rain falls frequently, lending a sheen to the gritty surfaces of the city, illuminating the dirty and tired pre-dawn streets. The film’s languorous pace allows Bahrani to focus on the minutiae of city life, from the glittering metal of Ahmad’s cart to the jagged potholes filling with rain. Set against the quiet human tragedy, the beautiful cityscapes of Manhattan seem almost an affront, an assertion of the landscape’s indifference to human endeavor.

In Man Push Cart, the strictures of the life in the city prevent human relationships from truly developing. Characters fail each other over and over again, after initially offering the possibility of a redemptive connection. Ahmad meets the slick, successful Mohammad (a sometimes awkward Charles Daniel Sandoval), a potential friend and benefactor who remembers him from his former life in Pakistan; but Muhammad’s good intentions result only in further disappointment and humiliation for Ahmad. At the same time, Ahmad is courting Noemi (in a sweet, but shallow performance by Leticia Dolera), a kind Spanish girl working at a newsstand and missing her native Barcelona. Despite their desires, things don’t work out; that’s just how it is in Bahrani’s New York, a city of missed connections, small failures, backbreaking work, and quiet desperation.

While unremittingly bleak in its outlook, Bahrani’s Man Push Cart is a beautifully textured film. Ahmad Razvi turns in a solid performance in a difficult role and Bahrani does an impressive job of walking the fine line between pathos and pity. But the film’s greatest achievement is its languorous visual appreciation of the beauty and despair that coexist in New York, which remains an endless repository of American stories.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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