Bodegas epitomize the 24/7 spirit of New York City. For the unfamiliar, they’re strange, magical corner stores where anything can happen, filled with mouse-hunting cats, fluctuating prices, and the occasional guy trying to pour sixteen sugars into a cup of dollar coffee. All this is to say that they’re a little unpredictable, especially late at night, when a trip to the bodega might result in a weird encounter with a stranger. Bodega tells the story of one of these encounters, and how sharing an unpleasant experience can bring different cultures together.
The film is an intertwining tale of two Syrian bodega men and two young American girls who head to their bodega to buy beer, and director Rebecca Halfon weaves these two pairs of friendships into a multi-patterned quilt of a film. Bodega traffics in back-and-forth banter rather than long dramatic pauses, and my favorite thing about it is how naturally it depicts everyday life in Brooklyn, and the spontaneous, anything-could-happen feeling of life in a big city. It’s a city where small crimes go unpunished, so you tend to shut out the things that bother you, and bend rules to fit your own moral comfort zone. The young girls’ reaction to a creepy encounter is to essentially shrug it off afterwards, and the bodega owner shows lenience to his two young customers (“she has ID,” he says, when his moralistic associate questions his judgment.)
In today’s political climate, you need to watch something that lifts your spirits every once in awhile, and the light-hearted tone of this film is a reminder that there are good people everywhere and they’re more than capable of outnumbering the bad ones. Each character in this film is well-rounded, and the dialogue is sharp enough to stick. Too often, filmmakers fail to add enough detail when creating characters and end up creating caricatures instead, but this isn’t the case here. There’s an attention to detail in these characters that make them jump off the page. The Syrian bodega owner drinks protein shakes to diet for his daughter’s wedding, and his loose cannon of a best friend is obsessed with Tinder and keeps eating bodega food without paying for it. On the other side of the counter is a girl whose biggest concern seems to be the terrible kisser she’s recently gone out with, and her outgoing friend, who accepts a cigarette from an attractive stranger even though she doesn’t smoke.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a film called Bodega nails the bodega experience, but it totally does. I’m not talking about the transactional, hungover, bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich experience that you get on any given Sunday. I’m talking about the kind of bodega experience that happens when you actually talk to the person across the counter and find a connection there. We live in a world where it’s easier and easier to avoid talking to other people, and sometimes it takes a situation to make different people to look up from their lives and talk to each other.
As an enjoyable slice-of-life, Bodega totally delivers in its 12 minutes, and serves as a refreshing palate cleanser to the ugliness of the American political moment. Others agree, as the film has had a strong festival run which included SXSW, and Palm Springs before debuting online today. Halfon is currently at work on a new short film, a feature proof-of-concept which she hope to shoot in upstate New York soon.