Aboy roams New York’s subway system, earphones in and purple hoodie on. His mother wanders the grey, empty Rockaway Beach, or has tense fights with her teenage daughter in a cramped, dark flat. On paper, Stand Clear of the Closing Doors doesn’t strike as a particularly gripping or affecting story. Yet, this apparently unassuming family tale, shot on a low budget, in director Sam Fleischner’s home area, is far from a small drama. Early on, it becomes clear why the founder of the Tribeca Film Festival (one Robert de Niro, no less) named this as one of two films he most wanted to see when it premièred there in 2013.
This is a story about autism – Ricky, played beautifully by Jesus Sanchez-Velez, is severely affected, to the point where he is unable to detect his own hunger without an adult prompting him to eat. However, it is about so much more than this, and draws on such wide-ranging themes. Ricky’s experiences on the Metro Rail may be unique, but the adolescent craving for autonomy is universal. The film’s layered allusions to illegal immigration, fractured family homes and broken social institutions, leaving America’s most vulnerable stranded and at risk, build to create a piece that feels relevant, necessary and hauntingly arresting.
With a remarkable sound scape that both perfectly captures the noise of New York and utterly disorientates the viewer, the promises, but also the threats of the city are brilliantly evoked. This is both intense, claustrophobic family drama and a grand story of autonomy and disempowerment. Fleischner has created a simple, but incredibly poignant piece.