Sidewalls by Gustavo Taretto

Sidewall (Medianeras) by Gustavo Taretto

Martín and Mariana are slightly damaged people who live in buildings just opposite one another. Martín, works as a web designer and is a phobic in recovery process. Little by little he manages to step out of the isolation of his one-room apartment and his virtual reality.  Mariana is an architect who just broke up after a long relationship. Her head is a mess, just like the apartment where she takes refuge. Martin and Mariana live in the same street, in opposite buildings, but they never met. They walk through the same places, but they do not notice each other. Both are afraid of the outside world. While they often don’t notice each other, separation might be the very thing that brings them together.

The film opens with a Manhattan-like montage showing the many buildings in Buenos Aires, a monologue from Martín (played by Javier Drolas) describes how architecture is the ultimate human expression and a mirror-accurate reflection of how we are – disorganized, contradictory, chaotic and disconnected. Martín states that his entire life is in his apartment: he works, sleeps, eats, has sex (with himself) and entertains himself there. He blames architects because they have designed the outlines of his life. Modernity has made our homes so comfortable that being outside and interacting with other people now seem daunting.

The characters are quirky but realistic. We are presented with their inner monologues along with animations visualizing their inner thoughts. It is never quirky for the sake of being quirky. Let’s just say if Zoe Deschanel suddenly manifested in this movie, she would have been quietly escorted out by Latino security guards. No seriously, Martín and Mariana’s quirks come from a real damaged place of hurt, heartbreak and a loss of faith in people. Something that felt really real for me was how Mariana likes to lean on a specific spot in her apartment -a wall besides the 5-step walkway up to her bedroom area. It does not look particularly comfortable or anything special, but she leans there and uses it like a place of safety. That hit me on a personal level.

Sidewalls provides a precise portrayal of isolation and loneliness and underneath asks some challenging questions. Why is all this interconnectivity setting us apart? How can someone feel alone on a subway full of people? Is love the answer? It might be the answer, but it’s goddamn hard to find amidst all this interconnectivity. Suffice to say, Martín and Mariana do get to meet potential lovers and it is interesting to see how they play out and how it affects the two protagonists. There are many whimsical moments and I smiled through most of the film. It gets a bit dark at times too. Mariana purchases a mannequin and interacts with it in all sorts of ways and I hoped that her condition wouldn’t worsen into anything darker. For that, I think actress Pilar López de Ayala has the meatier role. After this film, I think I have a new crush.

I liked what the film had to say about urban loneliness. I liked and cared for these characters and wanted to see them together. It’s a nice charming gem of a love story. I would have wanted to see more interaction between the two characters, but maybe that’s a good thing. It left me wanting more.

Shame by Steve McQueen

Shame (2011 film)

Shame by Steve McQueen

In New York City, Brandon (played by Michael Fassbender) has a carefully cultivated private life, which allows him to indulge in his sexual addiction. That life is disrupted when his troubled sister Sissy (played by Carey Mulligan) arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay.

It almost does not matter that Shame is a performance-based film, film is still a director’s medium. Whether you have a good performance or not in the can, it’s still up to the director to help the audience understand the performance in context to the story. That brings me to my next point: Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender have a really good thing going on. One trusts the other and the other completely knows how to use him in a movie.

McQueen is a director that knows 1) how to guide an audience through Fassbender’s performance and 2) knows how to put the actor and the audience into the world of the film. In fact, he does them both with the same technique: the long take. There are several long take sequences in the film that really put you into the world of the film and I think it was the right aesthetic choice. The long take not only brings reality by preventing artifice through editing, it allows us to really look inside Brendan.

Brendan is a protagonist with an unexplainable problem. It’s the compulsive need to find catharsis and escape through the flagellation of one’s body. As the emptiness grows inside through one’s growing addiction but cannot stop indulging to feel alive. The film doesn’t even go into telling us what happened to Brandon or Sissy before the story that may have been the genesis of his addiction. That does not matter. We only get the sense that they’ve been through some kind of trauma together.

Much of the journey is communicated through Michael Fassbender’s personal quiet performance. We understand Brendan through how he reacts to his surrounding world. A noteworthy scene was his boss David (played by James Badge Dale) mentioning the amount of pornography on his office desktop computer and we feel the immediate tenseness of his terrible secret and a fear of embarrassment as Brendan covers up with a poker face, even though his boss is totally unaware of his problem. Yes, Shame transports you into the mind of an addict. We feel why a moment’s thrill is better than perpetual existential gloom. Yes, Michael Fassbender deserves the praise and awards. I’m glad he’s getting both.

I’ve been writing this post for the past few days and I have found it very hard to sum up my thoughts. When I finished the film, it was very subtle and I did not completely understand the film. Through days of digesting it, it stuck a very deep cord inside me. I thought about man’s insatiable need for love and connection. I particularly thought about the scene where Sissy sings a sad rendition of New York, New York and why it moved Brendan to tears. I thought about Brendan’s romantic pursuit of his colleague Marianne (played by Nicole Beharie) and what happened there. I’m still digesting it. It is impressive how much deep underneath inside emotions Shame managed to communicate. This is a real work of art. Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender are a great team and I hope to see more work from the both of them.

One of the best films of the year. I’d be surprised if this wasn’t on my top ten by the end of the year. Now I want to see Hunger.