Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Other Side

THE OTHER SIDE                B               
France  Italy  (92 mi)  2015  d:  Roberto Minervini                 Official site [Italy]

There’s the urban and suburban world, where kids strive to go to college, get educated, prepare themselves for a working career, and then there’s this world, growing up in a wasteland of rural malaise, where making something of yourself entails an entirely different approach.   Rational, coherent thought is not a desired state of mind, as it’s not reflective of the neighborhood.  Instead the language of the film resembles a poetry slam fest for its in-your-face grit, profanity, and racist invectives, set in the backwoods of West Monroe, Louisiana, as the film is a raw and terrifying portrait of alcoholism, drug abuse, and virulently racist militia members, a depiction of people who have literally fallen off the edge of the world with no lifelines pulling them back.  Impoverished and uneducated, with little ambition other than to get high, this documentary profile of marginalized lives feels largely unfiltered, but also occasionally staged, as there’s a sense that the subjects are acutely aware of the constant presence of a camera following their every move, almost encouraged to showcase their views and attitudes, spending their days making homemade crystal meth that they then inject into their systems, where they aren’t hiding from the world so much as retreating from it.  Living on the edge allows them unfettered freedom to spout off their mouths on any subject, where there is a pervasive hostility directed towards government and a desire to be left alone, yet the feeling is they aren’t living their lives, but simply existing day to day, literally drifting through time, completely unaware of what’s happening in the rest of the world, showing no desire or curiosity to learn.  Instead their views reflect the handed down anger and resentment of isolated and oppressed people left to fend for themselves, where all they have is each other, yet the bonds between them are tenuous at best.  Expecting the apocalypse to be right around the corner, their paranoid views teach this doomsday group that the government will be coming to take their homes and guns away from them, where they need to arm themselves and prepare for the inevitable, having no clue that what little they own is damn near worthless, yet they’re willing to defend it with their lives, depicting a trailer trash, white supremist mentality that believes blacks are taking over the world, where they see themselves as the last bastion of freedom.    

Premiering at Un Certain Regard at Cannes, the film is a bit confusing in its presentation, with no set-up or narration, separated in two parts, as there’s no real plot or story, abruptly moving from one subject to the next with no apparent link between them, featuring an entirely new set of characters, where at least on the surface there’s no real connection between them, yet they’re all reflective of a similar mentality, damaged and wounded souls floundering on the outer fringe of society, cast adrift from any safety net, where the pervasive view is that nobody gives a damn about them, which might explain why so little respect is shown for themselves.  Opening with a brief glimpse of camouflaged war games in the woods, the scene shifts to a naked man passed out on the side of the road, getting up at first light to saunter on aimlessly, seen later in a crowded bar with a woman before departing together to shoot up crystal meth and have sex in their cramped trailer, all captured in graphic detail by the cameras, with the couple, Mark Kelley and Lisa Allen, willingly sharing their naked intimacy.  Like any drug addicts, there are trust issues, especially when drugs go missing, where an underlying layer of deep-seeded suspicion infects every resident in this community of outcasts, reminiscent of the hard corps privacy issues depicted by the secretive mountain people of the Ozarks in Debra Granik’s  2010 Top Ten Films of the Year: #3 Winter's Bone, who were also in the business of producing and selling crystal meth.  Living in dilapidated shacks so as not to draw attention to themselves, they survive on the drug trade, in this case, supplying Mark’s own family with drugs, where his sister doesn’t even call him by name, but greets him with “brother,” while his toothless Uncle Jim (James Lee Miller) is never seen without a whisky bottle in his hand.  While his mother may be in the terminal stages of cancer, she has access to a full line of pharmaceuticals, seen regularly popping pills like Xanax, perhaps the only way to relieve her pain, where the camera finds her mindlessly dancing by herself in the kitchen.  Even the youngest among them blames everything on Obama, calling him selfish, claiming he only thinks about himself and the rest of the blacks, where this view is parroted by family elders along with a disturbing usage of N-words, with remnants of the Confederate flag seen everywhere, where this same kind of bigotry has dominated the American South for hundreds of years. 

Yet for all the bleak revelations of hopelessness, we don’t really get a balanced view of the region, as instead the camera seems more interested in gazing at the squalor of the dilapidated conditions, where certainly part of the director’s mission feels crudely exploitive, graphically exposing the darkest corners of rural America, where drinking, smoking crack, and shooting up speed reflects a normal way of life, yet none more degrading and wrenchingly offensive than Mark graphically shooting up a very pregnant stripper just before she takes the stage in a seedy strip club, then sticking around to catch her sorry performance afterwards, sexually bumping and grinding and capitulating for every dollar, one of the cheapest expressions of capitalism imaginable.  In other scenes displaying what looks like a biker gang blowout beer party, it resembles the pornographic antics of Girls Gone Wild, where we see a guy getting a blowjob by a girl in an Obama mask, supposedly the ultimate insult in free speech expression.  If a picture of moral degradation was not complete, the director returns to the opening scenes, where right-wing extremist militia groups are conducting war games, claiming their aims are not political, yet their primary function, as self-anointed patriots and highly trained former veterans, is arming their neighborhood to the teeth and preparing them for the inevitability of government agents coming for their homes and their guns, as they’re convinced that Obama is trying to strip them of their liberty and Second Amendment rights, claiming they’re trying to teach anyone that’s interested how to protect their families.  What this involves is teaching them how to shoot high-powered automatic weapons, taking them out on maneuvers where their favorite activity is target practice.  Finding an old abandoned car, placing a life-sized Obama doll inside, spraying “Obama Sucks Ass” on the side of the car, this is their chosen target, firing hundreds of rounds into the bullet-riddled car, then stomping on what’s left of it, literally tearing the metal apart, but leaving the finish for a bazooka strike that blows it up into a fireball, something they all cheer as a victorious act of love.  One can only imagine how terrifying it would be to serve in the armed forces side by side with these angrily motivated men whose race hatred only fuels their delusions about a coming Armageddon, demonizing the enemy while wrapping themselves around the American flag.  Born in Italy and graduating with a master’s degree in media studies from the New School University in New York, the director shapes an outsider’s view of America, more intrigued by what lies under every rock, yet on some level, it is the inverse of Benh Zeitlin’s 2012 Top Ten Films of the Year: #1 Beasts of the Southern Wild, an end-of-the-world fantasia told from an uneducated and poor black point of view in the squalor of the Delta backwoods on the flood plains south of New Orleans, yet that film is inspirational and transcendent, while this film thrives on overt racial aggression, unleashing an exposed nerve of white anger and resentment.

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