The Other Side
Directed by Roberto Minervini
In an invisible territory at the margins of society, at the border between anarchy and illegality, lives a wounded community that is trying to respond to a threat: of being forgotten by political institutions and having their rights as citizens trampled. Disarmed veterans, taciturn adolescents, drug addicts trying to escape addiction through love, ex-special forces soldiers still at war with the world, floundering young women and future mothers, and old people who have not lost their desire to live. Through this hidden pocket of humanity, the door opens to the abyss of today's America.
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★★★★ review by Dave Vonderhaar on Letterboxd
How does one go back to the "talking heads summarizing Wikipedia articles" style of documentary after this?
I don't know how Minervini does it. I mean, I've read the interviews, so I know his technique, but I still have no idea how he gets such good "performances" by his non-actors--how they never acknowledge the camera, how they're open to allowing all aspects of their lives get captured by it (the scene where our protagonist helps a pregnant stripper inject meth is worse than anything I've seen in a horror film)... and even the way he gets them to "act" out the "scenes" in the narrative-lite portions of this. (When Mark tells his wife he plans to turn himself into the police...it's so weird, in that it seems very likely that really is what he intends to do, but this conversation is obviously rehearsed and staged--or his side of it, at least.) It's a page out of the reality TV notebook, I guess--but reality TV never gets as "real" as this.
...And it all leads up to a very shocking formal move: after following Mark and his family in such smothering detail, a bit after the hour mark the film just completely changes gears, dropping all these characters and never returning. And while we stay in rural Alabama, we see a completely different response to the economic devastation global capitalism has wrought: dozens of heavily armed militia-men preparing themselves for a war against the federal government.
I just wasn't prepared. I should have been--one can read the title as "the other side of the same coin"--but seeing it dramatized like that shook me to the core. When communities get completely abandoned by civic culture, they can give up or fight back.....and this film handled the incredibly tricky task of empathizing with these people while still condemning their responses as nightmare horror shows.
★★★★ review by JesseCataldo on Letterboxd
I’ve always been uncomfortable with the dubious setup of Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story, whose essentially lovely depiction of naturally-attuned Cajuns is consistently at odds with its funding by - and subsequent valorization of - the oil company that’s installing a new well in the swampland around their home. Now, 60 years later, we get a look at the sort of situation borne out from that original agreement, by which the residents traded the sanctity of their land for some much-needed profit, not realizing the possible long-term effects of such a Mephistophelean deal. Jobs have moved, the internal economy of local providers and workers has been traded out for in-sourced products, and residents have been tossed out like trash, left to forage for scrape and shoot up in dingy, darkened trailers. A sustained destruction of family is depicted, even as the drug-addled individuals at the center of the story struggle to keep those bonds intact (the enormous empathy displayed here, along with a Costa-esque ability to insinuate into the actual fabric of these people’s lives, saves it from mere political rubbernecking).
I am admittedly hesitant about the film’s inevitable status as a curio intended to document how the “other half” of America actually lives, but can’t really stress out too much over such potential concerns. I was, on the other hand, dazzled by the late-film switch in subject, which occurs after a final severing of family bonds (Mark gets married, his mother likely dies and he heads to jail to get clean as promised) leads us into a newly born family structure constructed along lines of reactionary response, rather than begruding acceptance. For all their paranoia, the militia-men profiled here (like most survivalists) have a logical basis of argument - that the US is an imperialist entity which forces residents of other countries to bend to its “democratic” will - but twist that idea in such a hateful direction (all “they’re coming for our guns” rhetoric and talk of martial law and internment camps) that it’s hard to empathize. It is easy to see how they’ve come to this conclusion; a military background (or regretful lack thereof), combined with the natural urge to protect one’s own family, easily mutates into anti-establishment rage in this kind of forgotten economic wasteland, where everyone seems to be either self-medicating or gearing up for battle.
★★★★½ review by dizzy4111 on Letterboxd
Having known countless folks like those this film - hell, I grew up with them - I can safely say that this is a tragically accurate, complex, and caring peek into a milieu that we just don't see often enough.
Roberto Minervini is officially on my radar.
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