(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: FROM THE OTHER SIDE does not follow the style of most documentaries. Rather than giving the viewer a collection of facts, it is more a compilation of the statements of people involved with the issue of illegal immigrants coming from Mexico to the United States. The statements are punctuated with long, drawn-out several-minute-long takes of subjects like a street in a border town, hikes across the desert while being tracked by helicopters, sequences of waiting in line at border crossings, etc. It is clear the director Chantal Akerman feels a strong sympathy for the immigrants and feels for their plight, but in making her film she made stylistic decisions that may get in the way of making her statement effectively. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

In FROM THE OTHER SIDE, Belgian documentarian Chantal Akerman gives us a minimalist view of the issue of Mexican would-be immigrants crossing the border from Mexico to Arizona. Akerman shows us the plight of illegal Mexican immigrants by simply letting them speak for themselves about why they or their family members risk death to cross over the border. Akerman does this without narration or text explanations or commentary. There are no screens with facts and statistics; there is no narrator talking over the visuals. Akerman chooses what the viewer will see, of course, but shows it without additional comment. She gives us the arguments from both sides, the Mexicans who cross over and some Arizonans who are opposed to the immigration, but it seems clear that Akerman's sympathy is for the immigrants. Recurring images in these scenes are the road and walls and fences. These are the staples of the immigrant's life and would-be immigrant's life.

Akerman goes back and forth between interviews, subtitled where necessary, and long languid outdoor landscape takes--most several minutes in length--giving us a feel for the environment and conditions in Mexico and across the border in Arizona. Akerman stresses the slow pace of life and the lay of the land. She will show a street in a Mexican border town with an occasional pickup truck driving down the street, and just lock down the camera letting the scene run for several minutes. This approach is an interesting stylistic decision. It conveys what may be an emotional truth of the experience of life in a Mexican town, but one has to ask whether showing these scenes to the viewer at such length is really the best use of the time the viewer has invested in the film. And is the viewer's reaction to such a portrait of the town even the same reaction that a local would feel looking at the same road?

By giving us these long takes with very little changing Akerman is going for an emotional impact rather than using the more common fact- and text-based approach. This lets the viewer come away with a feeling for the issues and perhaps with some sympathy, but not knowing enough of the scope and depth of the problem. The focus moves as a progression. Akerman first looks at families of immigrants passing over and the topography of their home territory. Then at some of the people themselves, self-admitted illegal immigrants reading a statement apparently written to be read in the film where they tell why they have come and the pain and suffering they have to endure. The scene shifts to the Mexican Consul to present the Mexican government's point of view. Finally there is an interview of a couple with fears of invasions from the other side of the border.

It would be more effective to have a good an compelling documentary depicting the plight of both the immigrants from Mexico and the Americans who oppose them. This film goes for more of a stylistic effect leaving the political impact secondary. A more effective approach would have made this much more the film that was needed. I rate it a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper