Alejandro, or Ale (Al-ay) as he’s known, is a 12 year old, living with his teenage sister above a car-repair workshop. Ale’s life touting, selling, and sometimes thieving, the junkyards and ramshackle parts and repair businesses all around, the lack of streetlights and sidewalks, the flooding when it rains, suggest a setting in the Global South. But this is New York as few will have ever seen it, in the Iron Triangle area of Queens, close by the Shea Stadium and US National Tennis Centre.
Ale has no parents, doesn’t go to school, and never stops working, helping in the repair shop, selling candy on the subway, and, in a one gripping ‘action’ scene, snatching a handbag. But he has a natural intelligence, and is determined to build a better life for himself and his sister, stashing away his money with the idea of buying a van from which they can sell fast food.
Neither idealized, nor made a victim, Ale’s drive and commitment is impressive, and his innocence touching. This is great life-affirming realist cinema, and though it is appalling that it’s hardly featured in cinemas in the US or Europe, it’s now available on dvd.
A triumph of realist cinema, Chop Shop is now out on DVD.