Rockaways film follows autistic teen’s subway journey
By Olivia Saperstein

In New York, we often attend the cinema to escape the deep belly of the subway, the stress and strain that city living induces, so when I went to see “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors,” at Tribeca Film Festival, I wasn’t sure if I’d run out of oxygen.

The film, directed by Sam Fleischner, was shot in the Rockaways, partially during the daunting Hurricane Sandy, and features Ricky (Jesus Sanchez-Valez), an autistic high school student who is under constant surveillance by his mother, Mariana (Andrea Suarez Paz), and sister Carla (Azul Zorrilla). Fearing Mariana’s wrath for skipping class, Ricky takes off for the subway, and what follows reflects the unpredictable nature of New York life.

Shots panning the sweaty interior of subway cars grow tired all too quickly; the fluorescent lighting, the all-too recognizable advertisements, slow caresses of unique attire, oddballs and B-boy dancers. For someone who has never been here, the realist approach would work quite well, providing them with a taste as to what to expect. New Yorkers, on the other hand, can’t wait for an exterior shot.

However, Fleischner succeeds in that his creeping pace works perfectly for the narrative. We never know what time it is, but it begins to feel as though Ricky has been on the train since the dawn of time, and we start to worry, like his mother, if he will ever return home. This approach is reminiscent of Chris Kentis’ slow burning “Open Water,” where we are constantly teased with shots of playful patrons on land.

Writers Rose Lichter-Marck and Micah Bloomberg have authored a truthful script, and one that highlights class conflict with a twinge of humor. Mariana works as a housekeeper for a wealthy young man, and we can’t help but release fragments of frustrated laughter when he asks her to pick up fruit for his juice cleanse, or to stop vacuuming because he’s trying to focus. There’s one way to put upper-middle class problems into perspective. We ache for Mariana, and Suarez Paz’s flawless performance only increases our anxiety.

But we are able to relate to and side with each character. Mariana needs to balance family and work, Carla is just trying to enjoy her youth, and Ricky, of course, needs time on his own. Seeing the world through Ricky’s eyes is quite beautiful, and the film reminds us that beauty can often be found in differences. Viewers will appreciate this, but probably more likely if they are fans of the approaches of a more ponderous neo-realist genre.

For more information and to locate New York screenings of “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors,” check out www.standclearclosingdoors.com.

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