SIFF 2022: El Carrito

Directed by: Zahida Pirani
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Raúl Mendoza


I am from a border town on the southern tip of Texas. I have always been surrounded by street vendors, and I would go as far as to say some of the best food I have had is from a street vendor. A lot of my childhood was spent traveling and spending time in Mexico, especially places like Monterrey and Nuevo Leon. Every morning, you knew the local street vendor was coming by because you could smell the rich scent of tacos sudados, which are usually tacos with the choice of pork, chicharron, potatoes, or pulled pork that has been steamed (literally cooked by the taco’s “sweat”). We would eat that for lunch and while out in the city you could not miss the vendors selling corn in a cup or on a stick drenched in chile, lime juice, mayo, and cheese. This is how I grew up and seeing these hard-working individuals out there in the coldest and warmest of conditions made me respect the grind of street vending. So when Taylor approached me with this film there was no doubt in my mind that this would be my next review.

“El Carrito” is an intimate portrayal of the American Dream and what it truly means to lose the source of your livelihood. The film is written, directed, edited, and produced by Zahida Pirani who has before tackled the difficulties of being a street vendor in her short documentary, “Judith: Portrait of a Street Vendor.” Nelly (Eli Zavala) is an immigrant woman who is a street vendor selling tamales in order to provide for herself and her elderly father, Rico (Jose Febus). Nelly lives and works in Queens, New York where the world of street vending is really competitive as she has to deal with people like Lucia (Idalia Limón) who takes her spot one day. Nelly makes a courageous decision to ditch her small crate and upgrade to a nice cart with a table, pole, and much more space to hold her items. One day coming back from a hard but successful day of sales her cart is stolen and she has to set off on a journey to find her cart or lose the only method through which she can maintain a roof over her head.

I found “El Carrito” to be a remarkable short film led by a commanding performance by Eli Zavala. Zahida Parani’s direction is strong and paced well throughout such an anxiety-inducing story. You really see the challenges of the life of a street vendor. Marcus Patterson’s cinematography is dignified through the use of close-ups and shaky camera movements that allow for the atmosphere of this film to be built. A lot of people would have a problem with the use of it but I think that it is necessary to show Nelly’s urgent need to find her cart. We truly watch a journey as our protagonist changes from someone who is concentrated only on herself to understanding the difficulties of everyone in her street vending community. She is only one of many vendors who push their livelihood every day down a street and could easily wake up the next day to it missing. Nelly realizes that life is complex and her struggles are shared by others just like her so instead of competing with each other there should be room to help each other instead. It is a teaching passed through every generation in my community, why are we here if not to help each other? I am excited to see what else Pirani works on, and if it is anywhere as intimate as this film I can find myself having another pleasant experience with her next work.

You can watch the Trailer for “El Carrito” here. “El Carrito” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the Seattle International Film Festival.

You can follow Raúl Mendoza on Instagram, Letterboxd, Twitter, and YouTube.

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