From the Other Side



De l’Autre Cote : Belgium/France 2001 : Chantal Akerman : 99 mins

Migration is a major issue at the moment – and it’s likely to become even more pressing an international concern in the remainder of the 21st century and beyond, if the current ‘globalisation’ trends continue to develop in such a messy, callous fashion. This makes From the Other Side an especially painfully missed opportunity – Akerman remains, in arthouse circles at least, a ‘name’ director, and any competent treatment of such a hot-button subject would surely have stood a decent chance of international distribution – albeit limited.

As it is, From the Other Side will remain strictly film-festival and small-screen material – though even then, a good hour’s footage could probably be excised, with a net gain in terms of impact very likely. Concentrating on illegal traffic across the US-Mexican border, Akerman alternates between halting interviews with those concerned individuals (mainly relatives of those who have made the crossing, and officials from various governmental and police bodies), and more oblique footage. There’s a tracking sequence taking in both sides of the border that seems to be inspired by the famous opening of Welles’s Touch of Evil, but mostly she favours endless, static shots of the urban landscape on the Mexican side of the line. These silent, audaciously extended images are, on the surface, very close to what James Benning has been doing with The California Trilogy: a sign marked ‘Dead End’ is buffeted by dusty storm winds. But they ultimately serve only to emphasise Benning’s genius, and Akerman’s relative ineptitude at what is a deceptively difficult approach to pull off.

Things only pick up at the ninety minute mark, when Akerman interviews an American sheriff who tells us his views about policy decisions that have led to the current problems faced by those patrolling the border. Positioning this helpful scene somewhere near the beginning may have resulted in an entirely different movie, but this would have been to easy for Akerman, who, on this evidence, equates obfuscation and ponderousness with art and analysis. The results are invariably at least borderline turgid – and it’s a line that From the Other Side crosses all too easily.

August 24th, 2002
(seen 18th, Filmhouse Edinburgh – Edinburgh Film Festival)

For all the reviews from the 2002 Edinburgh Film Festival click here.

by Neil Young
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