The Other Side of the Street (2004)

[original title: O Outro Lado da Rua]

 

Donna Regina is in her sixties, but she refuses to accept that she is getting old. She is a strong woman with a will of her own, but a lot of this strength is coupled with stubbornness and ill-content. Her bitterness and resentment may partially come from the shattered relationship she has with her family. She has left her husband and refuses to even be in the same room with him. And since her son has taken his father in, this has put a great strain on Regina’s relationship with him as well. Her only contact with her family occurs when she fetches her grandson Bruno from school every now and then to accompany him home – while still refusing to set foot in her son’s flat.
So she sits alone in her own flat, only having the company of her faithful dog Bettina. To combat the feeling of loneliness, and – more importantly – to combat the feeling of getting old, Regina keeps a strange hobby. As part of a trial scheme using pensioners as police informants, she keeps an eye on her neighbourhood and has even helped bringing serious offenders to justice.
But one day her working relationship with the police is damaged, either because her information was flawed or because said information was inconvenient for someone in power. But Regina is not willing to let sleeping dogs lie and is continuing to investigate the case which the police claim does not exist.

 

 

This is the directorial debut of Marcos Bernstein, who is primarily known for having co-written Central Station. For The Other Side of the Street (which he not only directed, but also co-wrote and co-produced) he was able to get Central Station’s Oscar and Golden Globe nominated lead actress, Fernanda Montenegro, to play the part of Regina.

 

Something feels odd about this film. The pacing within its 88-minute net running-time feels off; but more importantly, Regina’s life and story do not make complete sense. All this is the result of the film focusing less on developing the story itself and more on Regina’s psychological and emotional state. As a consequence, we ca see how lonely Regina’s daily routine is, but we do not understand how her life “works”. We are never really sold on her undercover sleuthing. Nothing here convinces – at no point do you believe that this is a world where an undercover programme like this would really exist. We are thrown into it and told to accept it, with Regina bringing down a criminal after 8 minutes by freely talking to strangers in a night-club where even the oldest guests are 40 years younger than her. I do no know what you might call this behaviour, but “inconspicuous” it is not.

Likewise, her relationship with the police inspector she “spies” for does not make much sense. It jumps all over the place. One minute Regina brings down a major crime figure, the next she is treated like a silly old woman. Then the situation changes again, suddenly and for no apparent reason.

 

 

As I said, the film focuses on Regina’s loneliness instead. A lot of small things are used to illustrate her lonely existence, and there are some great shots and frame compositions to highlight her isolation. The musical score as well as the exclusively blue colour scheme also help to accentuate those scenes.

 

The plot itself sees Regina grow less certain about the priorities in her life and she begins to realise how lonely she actually is.

 

In my opinion, this balancing act between the crime mystery on the one hand and the drama on the other did not pan out. If The Other Side of the Street is a drama about loneliness, this is a rather roundabout way of telling that story. And if this film is meant to be a crime mystery, it is not a very good one.

 

So, overall, this film did not work for me as I never managed to connect to the story or the characters. That does not mean this is a bad film. The central performances by Raul Cortez and Fernanda Montenegro are very good, and Monenegro won several prizes for her performance from Berlin all the way to the Tribeca film festival. And – as I had just pointed out – the cinematography (by Toca Seabra) in and the score (by Guilherme Bernstein Seixas) are very good as well.

 

All-in-all, I guess I will rate this film at around 6 out of 10.

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