Stirring the Coffee, and the Heart

Iranian director Ramin Bahrani, above, tells the story of a Pakistani immigrant who operates a coffee cart on Wall Street.
Iranian director Ramin Bahrani, above, tells the story of a Pakistani immigrant who operates a coffee cart on Wall Street. (By Mary Altaffer -- Associated Press)
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 14, 2006

The DC Labor Filmfest gets underway today with a quiet bang, presenting the local premiere of "Man Push Cart," a terrific neorealist film in the tradition of "The Bicycle Thief" about the modern-day nomads who make their living selling coffee and bialys on the streets of New York.

Making an impressive debut, Ahmad Razvi stars as Ahmad, who mans a coffee cart during rush hour on Wall Street. As "Man Push Cart" opens, Ahmad is beginning his day at 3 a.m., stocking his cart and pulling it like a human mule through the darkened Manhattan canyons. Later, he's greeted with affection by his blue-suited regulars. One customer turns out to be from Pakistan, like Ahmad himself, and the two strike up a friendship. In time, some secrets about Ahmad's past surface, and the two men's relationship comes under the inevitable stress created by their different stations in life.

Writer-director Ramin Bahrani presents Ahmad's story with rare sensitivity and insight, often choosing to tell it wordlessly, in a series of vivid, intimate scenes. When Ahmad makes the acquaintance of an attractive Spanish woman working for her uncle at a newsstand, the perspective widens not only to romantic possibilities, but to an entire world that for most people hides in plain sight.

The glittering Manhattan nightscape reflected in the quilted metal cladding of Ahmad's cart is brilliantly captured by cinematographer Michael Simmonds; composer Peyman Yazdanian has rounded out the elegiac effect with a haunting, mournful score. Razvi, who reportedly used to be a coffee cart operator in real life, delivers a spontaneous, unself-conscious performance that will no doubt change forever viewers' impressions of those who inhabit the economic margins. Instead of asking for two sugars next time, ask yourself what kind of future the man behind the counter might be dreaming about. Better yet, ask him.

Bahrani will introduce "Man Push Cart" and answer questions tonight at 7. The film will be shown again Saturday at 1 p.m. and Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.

The DC Labor Filmfest continues through Sept. 19. All screenings take place at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. Admission is $9.25, $7.50 for children, seniors and AFI members. Call 301-495-6700 or visit .

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