No more than a stone’s throw away from the New York Mets’ new, heavily commercialized Citi Field stands Willets Point, a muddy strip of junkyards and garages where immigrant hucksters and hustlers eke out a living by hook or by crook. Véréna Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki’s documentary captures this Queens locale (also the subject of Ramin Bahrani’s 2007 Chop Shop) in 2008–09, while on the precipice of foreclosure to pave the way for the Mayor Bloomberg–sponsored business and residential redevelopment. The impending obsolescence feels natural in an area defined by both automotive scrap and residents who, like the dogs and cats that roam its streets in search of sustenance, are societal strays. Gentrification, economic inequality, class conflict, and the rusty reality of the American Dream—here epitomized by the opening, symbolic sight of an impaled Chevy van bleeding fluid—are omnipresent concerns, given profound weight by the directors’ patient, attentive approach. As with Sweetgrass, another recent sterling New York Film Festival selection produced under the auspices of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, Foreign Parts engages in sociological inquiry without narration or contextual handholding, utilizing incisive, striking aesthetics (a panorama of hanging side mirrors, worn shoes trudging through grimy puddles) to elicit potent subcultural immersion.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 9, 2011