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FROM THE OTHER SIDE (DE L’AUTRE COTE) (director/writer: Chantal Akerman; cinematographers: Raymond Fromont/Robert Fenz/Chantal Akerman; editor: Claire Atherton; Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Xavier Carniaux; Icarus Films; 2002-France/Belgium-inFrench, Spanish and English, with English subtitles)

“Thought-provoking documentary on illegal immigrants.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Renown Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman(“Jeanne Dielman, , 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles“/”News from Home”/”Hôtel Monterey“) films this thought-provoking documentary on illegal immigrants from mostly on the Mexican side of the border. The slow-moving doc sympathizes with the impoverished Mexicans who risk their lives to make some money and get a better life in an unfriendly United States, whose citizens on the border towns are mostly outraged by the constant flow in illegal traffic and in their worst thoughts consider them as criminals, drug dealers, property destroyers and trespassers, possible disease carriers and might present other dangers to the locals such as being terrorists. Akerman interviews relatives of the border crossing Mexicans who grieve for those who lost their lives crossing the border and American sheriffs facing constant strife from the illegals, as she films in her distinctive style of pauses and long takes the recent massive wall erectedto keep out the invaders.We learn it might make it tougher for the illegals to get to San Diego and El Paso, but these desperate illegals are willing to take greater risks by going through the rural desert areas of Arizona to cross the border. The film mainly highlights the barren landscape between Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Mexico, and how dangerous an area it is to cross. The US border town features a highway sign that captures the feeling of many American locals: “Stop the Crime Wave! Our Property and Environment Is Being Trashed by Invaders!”

Akerman is mostly concerned that these ‘invisible people,’ the marginalized unemployed Mexican worker, are being screwed by both governments because of their bias against them, while the coyotes (paid smugglers) often take their money and run away leaving them alone to die in the hostile desert. The spare investigative journalism film is done in a sensitive and evocative way that tells us about the plight of the illegals, while never getting close enough to them to really know the private thoughts of their subjects.The film makes no attempt to say how the United States should change its immigration policy with Mexico, but lets us see the illegals poor living conditions at home and lets us come to our own conclusions on what is the right thing to do for this source of cheap labor.What it’s weak on is providing enough facts so we have a good idea what the problem is on both sides and are not swayed by merely raw emotional sentiments. It ends up being an arty pic, but one that fails to dig deep enough into the problem to be of more value.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”