Another winner from the East Coast Latino film scene, “Bought and Sold” unfolds in Jersey City, where people drive cars and the atmosphere is more relaxed than citified Washington Heights. A nice young man who wants to be a deejay tries to take a shortcut to his dream — but tyro helmer Michael Tolajian neatly transforms this potential crime thriller into a Horatio Alger comedy, Puerto Rican style. Cast is muy simpatico and, with the right handling, pic could follow in the wake of upbeat Latino breakouts like “Real Women Have Curves” and “Raising Victor Vargas,” with cable sales a foregone conclusion.
Bright, friendly Ray Ray (Rafael Sardina), a natural-born salesman who “could sell condoms to the Pope,” works in a shoe store at minimum wage, impatiently awaiting a promised promotion so he can buy turntables at a nearby pawnshop. At the suggestion of best friend Papo (Frank Harts), he hires on with Papo’s boss “Chunks” (Joe Grifasi), so dubbed because he’s got a piece of every action. Ray Ray is assigned to spy on the pawnshop, whose proprietor, Kutty, owes Chunks money.
Like Lumet’s “Pawnbroker,” Tolajian’s Kutty (David Margulies) is a Holocaust survivor — here, of the Armenian genocide. The objects in the pawnshop all have a story to the reclusive Kutty, who harbors repressed anger, not only against the Turks who slaughtered his grandparents and raped his mother, but also against a world that has left the genocide unpunished and uncommemorated.
Director Tolajian doesn’t let this sober history supplant the thrust of what is a gentle comedy, finding humor in pawnshop regular Floyd (Anthony Chisholm), whose eclectic finds are surpassed only by the tall tales of their acquisition.
Ray Ray, soon completely at home in the pawnshop, deftly steers a teen away from noisy drums to a guitar when a suggested clarinet is deemed “too gay.” He samples Armenian music and falls in love with Kutty’s niece Ruby (a glowing Marjan Neshat), his obvious soulmate. And when Chunks’ thugs finally pay Kutty a visit, Ray Ray smoothly negotiates an elaborate solution that leaves everybody happy.
Newcomer Sardina brings surprising warmth and depth to his ingenue role, matched well by Neshat’s simple sagacity. Grifasi’s Chunks is wonderfully extemporaneous; as likely to shove a spoon down someone’s throat as to give a kid a break, he’s an extroverted foil to Margulies’ enigmatic Kutty.
Super 16mm lensing by Kip Bogdahn looks crisp and clean, while Seth Anderson’s editing flows smoothly. Tracy McKnight’s music selections sweeten the ethnic mix.