Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 28, 2005

The Other Side of the Street

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:52 pm

posted to www.marxmail.org on January 29, 2005

Marcos Bernstein wrote the screenplay for Walter Salles’s excellent road movie “Central Station.” (Salles also directed the much acclaimed “Motorcycle Diaries,” another road movie!) Bernstein has now made his own debut as director in the soon-to-be-released “The Other Side of the Street” (O Outro Lado Da Rua), which stars 75 year old Fernanda Montenegro, who also starred in “Central Station.”

Montenegro plays Regina, a lonely, retired, middle-class woman living in the beachfront Copacabana neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. With sterile looking high-rises and a preponderantly elderly population, this neighborhood bears a striking resemblance to Miami Beach.

Regina has nothing much to keep her going except occasional visits by her grandson (she is alienated from his father and her ex-husband for reasons that are never spelled out in this often elliptical film), walking her dog who is as old as her in dog years, and serving as a police auxiliary. Like other retired folks, she keeps an eye out for drug dealers and muggers in her neighborhood. Her “undercover” name is Snow White.

Either out of boredom or in keeping with her unpaid job as a snoop, she trains her binoculars on the windows of the high-rise across the street (hence the title of the film) after waking up in the middle of the night. While scanning through the windows in a fashion somewhat after channel-surfing on television, she fixes on what appears to be a murder. After an elderly man injects his wife with a hypodermic needle, she dies in her bed. She then calls her contact at the police department, who comes to investigate. Since the elderly man is Camargo (played by Raul Cortez, a celebrated Brazilian actor), a highly-placed judge, and since the death appears to be from illness (indeed, the woman–his wife–was in the final throes of cancer), the cops decide that the investigation will go no further. This does not satisfy Regina who begins her own investigation and begins trailing the perpetrator around the Copacabana neighborhood.

Although this sounds suspiciously like a Brazilian version of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” the film goes off in an entirely different direction not long after Regina is confronted by her nemesis in a local restaurant. Camargo wants to know why he keeps running into her, wherever he goes. Although Regina feels menaced by him, she agrees to meet him on the beach the next day to talk some more. At this point the film goes off in a completely unexpected direction as Camargo expresses amorous feelings toward her. From their first meeting in the restaurant and until they finally consummate their relationship, it is never totally clear what he is really up to. Does he have ulterior motives? Will he kill her in an unguarded moment? We are also not sure whether the death of his wife, which he finally admits his role in, is a mercy killing requested by her or his own desperate act intended to relieve him from a burdensome marriage.

In other words, the lack of clarity and resolution is exactly what one encounters in real life but so infrequently in the cinema, especially Hollywood cinema which seeks to wrap denouements up in a tidy package with a red-ribbon.

“The Other Side of the Street” is a highly nuanced, superbly acted character study that defies conventional expectations. It is also a quintessentially Brazilian film that is also quintessentially universal. As a study of old age and loneliness, two decidedly unmarketable subjects, it is peerless.

The film opens at the Quad Cinema in NYC on February 25. Highly recommended.

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