Alberto and the Concrete Jungle is not a film that fits easily into a generic category. Part documentary, part staged, and full of heart, this love letter to the five boroughs of New York City is an enjoyable, chaotic watch.
Escape from New York
Alberto (Alejandro Santoni) is a ‘man of adventure’ who does not like to live according to society’s expectations – a nomadic traveler who flits between various one-room rentals and chooses his next destination by the 21st century equivalent of closing his eyes and pointing at a map. With only a bag of essentials and his trusty camera, he moves from country to country, exploring the communities that reside within, simply by talking to everyone he meets until something interesting or unexpected happens.
However, his reliance on precarious employment finds him running afoul of a media mogul with very few scruples, who wants to use Alberto to boost the profile of his company with a very persuasive form of blackmail. Desperate to find a way out of this predicament, Alberto moves frantically throughout the streets of NYC, accompanied by a changing cast of characters who’s vibrant, clashing, and somewhat overbearing personalities come to represent the city itself.
Reality and Realism
Alberto and the Concrete Jungle taps into a form of documentary-style narrative cinema that has been employed to much success by the Ross Brothers and their festival storming Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets which looked at the last night of a bar on the outskirts of Las Vegas, and the community that had formed there.
Using a mix of handheld camera footage, guerrilla filming, and a cast of actors whose performances err on the side of realism, writer-director Chris Shimojima creates this fluid environment that embraces the chaos of New York through street chases, fights, and conversations that spill into the lives of passers-by.
The chosen soundtrack also cements Alberto and the Concrete Jungle’s homage to a historical movement of cinema, that of the ‘city symphony film’ as popularised in the early twentieth century with Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927). These films proclaimed to show a slice of life of these Western cities in the throws of modernisation, combining covert filming techniques with carefully staged and choreographed scenes with non-professional actors. Lev Zhurbin’s music becomes part of the movements around the city, as Alberto runs it gets faster, more manic, while in its quieter moments it lends itself to a certain sorrow that underpins Alberto’s existence. The upbeat, almost cheeky score of Alberto elevates the frenetic lifestyle that the protagonist leads as he bounces from one neighbourhood to another, leaving behind friends, lovers and broken relationships in pursuit of his dreams of liberation.
New York, I Love You
Above all else, Alberto and the Concrete Jungle is an exploration of the New York that isn’t often seen on the big screen. It is insular communities and large open spaces, a sense of urgency, and the solitude found on the roof of a building surrounded by other people.
Trying desperately to leave and stay true to himself as the wandering nomad, Alberto is quickly adopted by a commune led by Oprah (Rami Margron) who are eager to help him find his place in their society. There is something in him that, despite everything, wants to be a part of something and New York’s insistence on providing that to him in the one part that is driving him away.
Alberto and the Concrete Jungle is not a perfect film; it gets overlong in places and is sometimes needlessly messy in its confrontations, with multiple conversations and plot strands coming together but not always providing much propulsion. But as a film that reflects a slightly more perfect depiction of society, it is an entertaining watch.
What did you think of the film? Are there other New York films you love? Let us know in the comments below!
Watch Alberto and the Concrete Jungle
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