You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Other Side’

Documaker Roberto Minervini follows up 'Stop the Pounding Heart' with this beautifully disquieting immersion in Louisiana lives.

Mark Kelley, Lisa Allen, James Lee Miller.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1667635/

Having wrapped his Texas trilogy —  “The Passage,” “Low Tide” and “Stop the Pounding Heart” — Italian chronicler of the American margins Roberto Minervini heads next door to Louisiana, where he finds a fresh group of desperados to observe in “The Other Side,” a soul-draining, feature-length look at the bastard stepchildren of the American Dream. By immersing himself among drug addicts, anti-government zealots and various other extreme personalities, the helmer manages to capture a troubling side of the country’s identity that locals prefer to ignore. Meanwhile, foreign audiences will be free to confirm their worst assumptions about America’s character, especially as it relates to the Second Amendment, in this loosely structured and frequently off-putting documentary, which is sure to follow the earlier triptych’s well-traveled festival footsteps.

Whereas Minervini’s previous pics seemed to radiate a warm empathy toward his subjects — perhaps merely a manifestation of his open-minded curiosity toward the extreme cultural difference he found peering into the less explored corners of Southern culture — “The Other Side” feels far more shocking in its portrayal. One moment, we see a pregnant woman mainlining heroin in a bar bathroom, and the next, she’s spreading her legs for dollar tips on the strip-club stage. Sure, these things happen, but to what extent can they be considered representative of the microcosm under scrutiny?

Sadly, as exploitative as individual moments feel, the casualness with which his cast — none of them actors — allow this behavior to be seen on-camera suggests that the depravity is hardly exceptional. Still, d.p. Diego Romero Suarez-Llanos’ style seems so much richer than typical fly-on-the-wall coverage in the way it masks the film’s nonfiction status. Though the characters never directly acknowledge that they’re being observed, a number of scenes feel constructed especially for the camera’s benefit, lending a certain illusion of narrative, when what we’re actually seeing is a collection of repeated actions — a depressing pattern of behavior.

Popular on Variety

Minervini’s main character, Mark, is a stringy small-time drug dealer with more tattoos than teeth, who passes his days doing odd jobs, getting high with his g.f. Lisa and breaking into empty buildings. Mark manages to pick up a few bucks here and there doing honest work, but does better selling heroin to friends and family.

As a criminal who’s deferred his prison sentence until his elderly mother passes away, he’s lost the right to vote — and to bear arms — putting him on “the other side” from those allowed to defend themselves from a greedy government. The movie doesn’t delineate particularly well between these two sides, but the idea seems to be that rural Louisiana divides into two groups: They’re either shooting up targets at the gun range, or shooting up heroin in the privacy of their homes (or smoking crack, drinking beer, etc. to obliterate the burden of real life).

“We done paid our dues,” drawls a drunken oldster known as “Uncle Jim,” who never once appears sober in the film. Like virtually all of the people Minervini opts to include, he’s an inherently pitiful figure: a walking ghost in one of the country’s most poverty-challenged communities, overlooked by a system he considers to be more interested in propping up Wall Street than supporting the so-called “common folk” — although if Jim and his peers are common, then the United States has bigger problems than it’s willing to admit. This microcosm could almost be a kindred spirit to the one presented in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” minus all the agitated camera tremors, had the characters been exclusively white and too stoned to bother with even a pair of bright orange underpants.

For the first half of the movie, “The Other Side” observes Mark and Lisa’s unconventional relationship, a romance which shows as much disdain for wardrobe as it does the law (with graphic depictions of sex and drug use along the way), alternating with long scenes in which barely lucid characters spew racist and otherwise disrespectful rhetoric about President Obama.

But that’s mild compared to the militia group that becomes the film’s primary focus once Mark mysteriously exits frame: These guys have more money, lots of fire power and a downright frightening agenda. They’re convinced that Obama plans to declare martial law any day in Louisiana, and they retaliate by taking their machine guns out to the range and blasting away at effigies of the president.

It’s enough to make Americans feel ashamed of their countrymen, which is evidently the opposite reaction from what Minervini intended. In one scene, tears well in Jim’s eyes as he reads the poem stuck to his fridge: “To all those who feel worthless,” it begins. That may as well be the film’s own dedication line, miraculously managing to find a serene beauty amid so much desperation and squalor, honoring its characters without letting them off easy.

Film Review: 'The Other Side'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 21, 2015. Running time: 92 MIN. 

Production: (Documentary – France-Italy) A Shellac (in France), Lucky Red (in Italy) release of an Agat Films & Cie, Okta Film presentation and production, in co-production with Arte France Cinema, Rai Cinema, with participation of MyMovies.com. Produced by Muriel Meynard, Paolo Benzi, Dario Zonta.

Crew: Directed by Roberto Minervini. Written by Minervini, Denise Ping Lee. Camera (color), Diego Romero Suarez-Llanos; editor, Marie-Helene Dozo; music supervisors, Pascal Meyer, Steve Bouyer; sound, Bernat Fortiana Chico, Ingrid Simon, Thomas Gauder; associate producer, Marc Bordure.

With: Mark Kelley, Lisa Allen, James Lee Miller.

More Film

  • The Irishman

    'The Irishman' Nabs 17.1 Million U.S. Viewers on Netflix in First Five Days, per Nielsen

    Martin Scorsese’s mafia saga “The Irishman” was watched by 17.1 million unique Netflix viewers in the U.S. in the first five days of its streaming release, according to Nielsen estimates. By comparison, Sandra Bullock-starrer “Bird Box” scored nearly 26 million U.S. viewers in its first seven days of availability (Dec. 21-27, 2018) on Netflix, according [...]

  • De-aging Robert De Niro For Scorsese's

    'The Irishman': A Closer Look at the De-Aging of De Niro in Scorsese's Mob Epic

    Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” hits Netflix today and it stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a truck driver who meets Russell Bufalino (Pesci). Sanning several decades, the film follows Sheeran as he gets involved in the greatest unsolved mob mystery – the disappearance of union boss Jimmy [...]

  • David Tennant'Good Omens' TV show premiere,

    Intl. TV Newswire: HBO in Denmark, Tennant in a Balloon, Eccho Rights in Love

    In this week’s jam-packed International TV Newswire, Variety catches you up on HBO’s first Danish original series “Kamikaze,” the first deal between ViacomCBS-owned broadcasters since the merger, David Tennant’s upcoming 80-day global circumnavigation, an un-scripted deal between Japan’s Nippon TV and the U.K.’s The Story Lab. Also on the mix: Eccho Rights’ newest global pickup from Sweden, [...]

  • Sin Señas Particulares

    Alpha Violet Acquires Fernanda Valadez’s Sundance-Selected ‘Identifying Features’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES  — Paris-based Alpha Violet  has acquired international rights to Fernanda Valadez’s feature debut, “Identifying Features,” which world premieres in World Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Announced this week, the Sundance selection comes on top of a Films in Progress Prize at this September’s San Sebastian Festival. Studying at Mexico’s Centro [...]

  • Days of Christmas

    Pau Freixas on Netflix Spanish Miniseries ‘Days of Christmas’

    BARCELONA – A Netflix original produced by Spain’s Filmax, “Days of Christmas” marks the new series of Pau Freixas, one of the highest-profile creators on Spain’s vibrant drama series scene. A three-part miniseries, “Days” will be made available worldwide by Netflix on Dec. 6. The story takes place over three different Christmas days, the first [...]

  • Writers-Room-Panel

    Ventana Sur: Argentine Directors on Benefit of Writers’ Room (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Ventana Sur hosted two of the country’s leading screenwriters to relay the benefits of utilizing a writers’ room while conceptualizing fiction projects, delivered to a packed auditorium on Tuesday afternoon as part of the Fiction Factory series held at the UCA Campus in Puerto Madero. Director Daniel Burman, known for films such [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content