Night Stocker, and a Slice of Life

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A Brief Commentary & Review of the film, “In the Aisles”

by John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Director

“In the Aisles” is a quiet little film about the lives of ordinary people. Based on a short story by Clement Meyers, it is told with subtle humor, pathos and charm.

The film begins in the pre-dawn hours in a near-empty parking lot, adjoining a big-box outlet store that will slowly come to life. Inside, the orchestral sound of Johnann Strauss’ “An der schönen, blauen Donau - Walzer (Blue Danube)” provides the accompaniment as a forklift and a floor sweeper perform a graceful ballet; gliding effortlessly across the floor, then crisscrossing between the aisles. An amusing, thoughtful, bittersweet, story is about to unfold.

Christian has been hired as a night stocker. The character is portrayed by Franz Rogowski, the same actor who plays the main character in “Transit” (Mountain Shadow’s April film selection), While a wholly different film, Christian’s behavior is not unlike that of Georg in “Transit.” He is a quiet observer, taking in and narrating the life scenes and episodes that surround him.

Reporting to the boss’s office on his first day, Christian is outfitted with the standard uniform: company overcoat, with 3 pens in the breast pocket, and a name tag. Wearing the sleeves pulled down will cover his tattoos; while the standard-issue box cutter is to be kept at the ready. He’s then introduced into this brave new world where all sense of time is forgotten; as the nights roll on one after another, never seeing the light of day.

In this nightly world, there’s Bruno, his immediate superior, who manipulates the forklift with ease. And Jurgen, with whom Bruno plays chess when he’s on his break time in the cigarette dispensing room. And then there’s the flirtatious Marion, from the sweets aisle. With a sense of shy and awkward innocence, the night stocker will become the night stalker.

Throughout it all, there is the daily grind and routine of the night shift to be done with precision. After all, there are the assigned roles, with rules to be followed in this tightly run little fiefdom. The night supervisor commences the shift by selecting some calming classical music to be piped through the PA system, uttering the same introit each evening, “Welcome to the night shift.” In the morning, he shakes each worker’s hand as they line up to punch out their time cards and depart; only to return from their former lives and unspoken -- and sometimes broken -- pasts that are temporarily left behind.

There’s a little slapstick fun with the pallet jack, with Christian “lacking the proper knowledge;” along with the class on forklift operations, complete with a comical tutorial video. And there’s the typical turf warfare between the vegetable and detergent departments; what Bruno dubs “forklift conflicts.”

There’s genuine camaraderie too. Bruno, the mentor, will take the newbie under his wing and show him the ways of this alternate world. Christian will get his forklift license, with hearty congratulations from his comrades. The holidays will come ‘round, and they will feast on expired delicacies from the dumpsters; along with boyish antics at the impromptu Christmas party on the loading dock. Christian will even befriend the nameless bus driver that delivers him to and from work.

But, as with the world outside, all is not always well in the magic kingdom.

Bruno the former trucker who feigns still having a wife at home puts it, “I miss being on the road.”

Unexpected things will happen. Little tragedies, as well as the little hints of things we hope might happen.

And, “In the Aisles” will conclude like a suspended, unresolved half note; like a slice of life, leaving the viewer to only imagine how – as Christian’s boss puts it – life will go on. jb