Foreign Parts has the aura of a Discovery Channel special: the audience’s job is to watch and learn. The tone and pace of the film make it feel like an introduction to another world: a schleppy, quirky, charming world. And unless you knew it was there, hidden behind the Mets stadium, you might think Willets Point, Queens, was another world. Here auto shop hustlers and savvy drivers argue, compare, barter and fix. The road (a generous use of the word) is covered in deep potholes, dogs run loose, and social hierarchy is intricate. And, oh, the cars! Have you ever considered just how many kinds of car doors there are?
The film relies far more on its cast of characters than it does on any narrative structure, but this doesn’t seem sloppy; the men and women of the Willet Point auto yards and junk shops are each a story of their own. Their daily practices are filmed carefully, the movements of their hands, the parts, and the vehicles considered in detail. While issues of poverty and gentrification loom heavy over the protagonists, this is more ethnographic study than heavy-handed social commentary.
Foreign Parts screens tonight at 7:15 and Saturday at 7:00 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox