Stand Clear of the Closing Doors

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Ricky (Jesus Sanchez-Velez) is 14-years old, autistic and having the worst day at school. Instead of walking home with his sister, Carla (Azul Zorrila), who insists he can find his own way home, he ventures off on his own into the New York subway system. His mom, Mariana (Andrea Suarez Paz), becomes frantic when does not come home and searches desperately for her missing boy in “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors.”

Robin:
Sophomore helmer Sam Fleischner directs the screenplay by Rose Lichter-Marck and Micah Bloomberg. The story is quietly told but with strong emotional feeling. Ricky is an enigmatic boy whose autism keeps him to himself, even as he travels the NYC subways with its press of humanity. You never know what Ricky is thinking or even if he is thinking during his odyssey.

The story, with Ricky’s disappearance, divides, giving Mariana’s frantic helplessness – she is an undocumented alien and is afraid to go to the police – real gravitas. She does get help from Carmen (Marsha Stephanie Blake), a clerk at a shoe story where Ricky likes to go. The two comb the area, putting up missing child leaflets and asking anyone and everyone if they have seen the boy. Mariana and Ricky’s stories develop separately but are solidly linked by a mother’s love for her child.

Acting is minimalist (not minimal) with Ricky barely uttering a word to anyone during his days, long journey. The young newcomer does a fine job in portraying a functionally autistic boy. Andrea Suarez Paz is also quite good as Mariana. You empathize with her fears and helplessness as she tries to find the missing boy. The ending is, to me, a satisfying conclusion to this Homeric tale. I give it a B.

Laura:
Mariana (Andrea Suarez) is an illegal Mexican immigrant living in Queen's isolated Rockaway Beach with her rebellious teenaged daughter Carmen (Marsha Stephanie Blake) and autistic son Ricky (Jesus Valez, a non actor with Asperger’s syndrome).  Her husband, Ricardo Sr. (Tenoch Huerta Mejîa), is rarely home and Mariana's stretched thin traveling into the city to work.  When Carla fails to pick up Ricky from school, the boy wanders into the NYC subway system and survives for days, forced to come out of his shell in "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors."

This little indie from director Sam Fleischner (written by Rose Lichter-Mark and Micah Bloomberg) seems simple on the surface but it makes us think about so many things - the power of maternal love, the unique perspective of autism, the limited resources available to illegal immigrants, the isolation of a crowded urban city.  While the movie has that too flat, too sharp look of digital filmmaking, it's also remarkably impressionistic, cinematographers Adam Jandrup and Ethan Palmer capturing the ordinary through Ricky's eyes, highlighting things we usually fail to notice rushing through our busy lives (sound is also essential here).  When Hurricane Sandy interrupted filming, Fleischner found a way to incorporate it into his story.

Cross cutting between Ricky's frantic mom and her thirteen year-old's journey, we learn how little help is available for Mariana as Ricky seems to take his adventure in stride.  We can sense what Mariana's thinking as she walks the misty beach looking for her son (Suarez gives a heart breaking performance).  She's advised by his public school to call the police as they do not have the budget to deal with special needs children.  Over the phone Ricardo tells her she cannot contact authorities who could stir up immigration issues.  Mariana's persistent search leads her to a shoe store where her son liked to spend time and its owner comes to her aid, helping fashion missing posters which they post around the neighborhood.

Meanwhile Ricky, who's followed a dragon symbol on the back of a man's jacket, must figure out how to deal with basic needs.  He meets a kind stranger, puts together enough coins to buy chips and uses public rest rooms.  He's entertained by a hip hop trio performing on a train.  But Halloween also presents some terrifying sights and when the young boy pees himself, other travelers make unwarranted assumptions.

With MTA service suspended because of the storm, we fear the worst.  Ricardo returns home and the family attends a church service.  The filmmakers give us a miraculous conclusion, all the more so because of its simplicity.  "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors" is a remarkable small film, evoking strong emotion by plunging us into one family's problems with great artistry.

Grade:  B+
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