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CHOKING MAN (director/writer: Steve Barron; cinematographer: Antoine Vivas Denisov; editors: Jon Griggs/Todd Holmes; music: Nico Muhly; cast: Octavio Gómez Berrios (Jorge), Eugenia Yuan (Amy), Mandy Patinkin (Rick), Aaron Paul (Jerry), Kate Buddeke (Teri), Philippe Brenninkmeyer (Germanic Man), Mando Alvarado (Chef), Paolo Andino (Choking Man), Marika Daciuk (Rick’s Wife), Russell G. Jones (Subway Man); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Steve Barron/Joshua Zeman/Zachary Mortensen; International Film Circuit; 2006)
“Low-key indie.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Pioneering Irish videomeister Steve Barron (“A-Ha’s Take On Me”) helms this modest low-key indie feature film, his first, that takes a hard look at contemporary life in an ethnically diverse Queens working-class neighborhood and at a modern-day invisible man who hardly speaks, when agitated at work sulks in the weeds behind a fence in the alley, when outside in the chilly November climate bundles up in a hooded parka to avoid eye contact, and whose joyless life seems to be of just working in the diner in a menial position, riding the underground E train home and watching banal television shows at home. The loner shares his one room apartment with a roommate who may or may not be real, yet his comments have a big influence on him.

The severely shy Ecuadorian immigrant dishwasher Jorge (Octavio Gómez Berríos) works in a Jamaica, Queens, diner, owned by the tooth-pick chewing father-figure Greek-accented Rick (Mandy Patinkin). Jorge withdraws to live in a fantasy world, which we see through animation. The thin plotline has Jorge carrying a secret love torch for the friendly new young Chinese waitress Amy (Eugenia Yuan) and a hatred for the boorish kitchen worker, Jerry (Aaron Paul), who bullies him and is wooing Amy with his wise guy crazy act.

The artsy animations are creative but don’t do much to advance the urban drama about loneliness and despair. The character-driven story never advances beyond Jorge stuck with a pathological problem that keeps him imprisoned in a fantasy world he doesn’t quite know how to manage. What the film excels in, is catching the bitter-sweet mood of the city through the scary-looking underground subways and the noisy rattling elevated train that abounds the diner, and through the testy inhabitants who find reasons to get on each other’s nerves.

There are occasional bright spots that make the drama affecting despite all the gloom. They include a troubled older waitress who has been around, Teri (Kate Buddeke), getting fired over a tension-ridden spat with the cook as they argue whether or not she ordered gravy for one of her dishes and of Jorge following the directions on the “Choking Victim” poster hanging over his work station to perform the Heimlich maneuver to rescue a customer who suspiciously swallowed a fish bone and be called a hero by Amy and the diner owner.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”