Sidewalls

English Title: Sidewalls

Original Title: Medianeras

Country of Origin: Argentina

Studio: Pandora Filmproduktion, INCAA, Rizoma Films, Zarlek Producciones

Director: Gustavo Taretto

Producer(s): Natacha Cervi, Hernán Musaluppi

Screenplay: Gustavo Taretto

Cinematographer: Leandro Martínez

Art Director: Romeo Fasce, Luciana Quartatuolo

Editor: Pablo Mari, Rosario Suárez

Runtime: 95 minutes

Genre: Urban Cinema

Starring/Cast: Pilar López de Ayala , Javier Drolas

Year: 2011

Other Information:

Composer:
Gabriel Chwojnik

 

 

Format:
Colour, 35 mm


Synopsis:

As the seasons turn in Buenos Aires, the city’s architecture reflects changes in the characters’ lives. Martín is a shut-in web designer who lives in a one-room apartment. His neighbour in the next building is Mariana, a would-be architect recovering from a breakup who makes her living as a window display designer. Both are lonely and isolated but they have much more than that in commonthey just don’t know it. Nor do they know each other, even though they often cross paths in the city’s streets. Will they end up together?


Critique:

Expanding his 2005 short of the same name, Taretto has made an auspicious feature film debut with Sidewalls. This savvy romantic comedy pays homage to Woody Allen’s urban romance Manhattan (1979)a film both leads watch simultaneously, but separately. Taretto shoots the skyline of Buenos Aires like Allen films New York. In addition, the wry writer/director also borrows his narrative structure from films like Claude Lelouch’s Toute une vie/And Now My Love (1974): Sidewalls also chronicles the two halves of the couple individually as they cross paths before meeting in the final scene. But Taretto lovingly employs these stylistic and narrative devices to provide many amusing, original moments in his smart, refreshing romance.

 

Sidewalls opens with a terrific series of still shots of the Argentine capital’s architecture accompanied by Martín’s voiceover. His speech about ‘aesthetic and ethical irregularities’ provides not just a sense of urban Buenos Aires, but also a reflection of the main characters’ hermetic, emotional lives. Another voiceover is used to describe the plants that ‘adorn the greyest concrete, sprouting out of nowhere’. These observations, as well as Mariana’s narrative about a ‘sky full of wires uniting and dividing’ folks in the city, provide endearing visual and verbal symbols of hope and connection for the film’s forlorn romantics.

 

Martín and Mariana are well defined by their urbanity. Sidewalls excels not only in its art directionespecially in the characters’ ‘shoebox’ apartmentsbut also in visually representing physical and emotional space. From tableaux of apartment building addresses to images of stairwells and elevators, walls and windows, the film is a gorgeous homage to urban design and emblematic of emotional despair. Sidewalls pays tribute to the staple of Buenos Aires architecture, which porteños mostly keep painted white to mask the urban grit.

 

Taretto’s strong visual motifs emphasise that his film is less about getting the two main characters together and more focused on exploring their patterns and similarities in parallel situations. This approach makes the viewer an active participant in Taretto’s game of connecting the dots that form the links between the characters. Whereas Martín is a shut-in who has panic attacks and designs webpages, Mariana has an existential fear of crowds and designs window displays (i.e. a visual ‘homepage’ for brick-and-mortar stores). Whereas Martín lives mostly online so he can avoid people, Mariana surrounds herself at work and at home with mannequins.

 

There are many witty scenes that have Martín and Mariana duplicating each other’s actions, which reinforce the characters’ compatibility as they generate and build the film’s romantic suspense. Both go on dates with other people, and their interactions with others only seem to magnify their respective loneliness. The extended scenes of them looking for love further prompt the viewer’s desire for the characters to find each other. To underscore this theme, Taretto provides a great visual gag of both protagonists looking at each other through the respective windows they ‘illegally’ had built.

 

Sidewalls features many such magical moments. At one point, Taretto literally draws a heart around the two main characters’ heads as they pass each other unknowingly in the street. And while there are playful visualsfrom symbols used to represent the dating profile of a girl Martín meets online to an animated sequence that reflects Mariana’s quest for finding ‘Waldo’ in the city – these poignant reflections on life, love and loneliness make Sidewalls so endearing. Taretto’s film is pure poetry when a voiceover explains that the sidewallsthe ‘useless, purposeless’ sides of buildingscan remind people of the passing of time and of ‘the cracks, provisional solutions and dirt’ that mark our surfaces and divide us.

 

Both Drolas and López de Ayala are attractive, engaging performers, and while they only meet briefly, they have terrific chemistry. The end credits sequence in which the actors lip-synch ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ is especially charming. Sidewalls may be as much in love with the city and its characters as audiences will be.

 

Author of this review: Gary M Kramer