The Other Side of the Street (2004) / Drama-Thriller
aka O Outro Lado da Rua
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for some violence, mature themes, sexuality, and language
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Fernanda Montenegro, Raul Cortez, Luiz Carlos Persy, Laura Cardoso, Marcio Vito, Milene Pizaro
Director: Marcos Bernstein
Screenplay: Melanie Dimantas
Review published July 30, 2005
Marcos Bernstein, the screenwriter that brought us wonderful stories like Central Station and Foreign Land, directs and produces for the first time here with The Other Side of the Street, a mix of Hitchcockian plotting, a touching story on loneliness and family, and commentary on the state of crime and indifference in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Also on board from Central Station is acclaimed Oscar-nominated actress Fernanda Montenegro (Redeemer, A Dog's Will), delivering another strong performance as a tough woman with many flaws and loose ends in her life she has been too afraid to resolve.
The film is part thriller and part romance, in the grand Hitchcock tradition. It starts off in Rear Window fashion, where the elderly police informant, Dora (Montenegro), spends most of her days and evenings looking for crime and reporting suspicious activity to the local police. One night she is spying through her binoculars at her neighbors living in a high-rise apartment complex like her own across the street, stopping on a middle-aged woman being put to bed by a man that injects her with a needle and then puts a blanket over her head. Knowing a crime when she sees one, she informs the cops, but finds that when she investigates the next day, the cops charge the man, a well-to-do judge named Camargo (Cortez, To the Left of the Father), with no crime. Incensed that a rich man can get away with murder, and insulted by the fact that the police chief would throw her out and tell her to mind her own business, Dora decides to tail Camargo himself, only her actions become obvious to him. Camargo thinks it is more than chance that he happens to see her everywhere, soon asking Dora out on dates and the like. Here, entering Hitchcock's Suspicion mode, Dora pretends to be interested in Camargo, but soon begins to doubt her convictions of him as a murderer, despite what she knows she saw with her own eyes.
At its core, Bernstein's film is about loneliness, particularly among the elderly in Rio. Dora, for reasons explained in the film, has a family, but personal pride and petty differences prevent her from being able to see them often. not able to bear such a lonely existence on her own, she spend much of her time walking her dog, and she also joins a "neighborhood watch" service to stop crime. She has seen the neighborhoods deteriorate before her eyes over the years, and the callousness of eyewitnesses that would rather go on about their daily routines than get involved with the police, particularly when the cops have no ability to stop the overwhelming amount of criminal activities that go on. Dora's interest in the service is of duty and of trying to not dwell on her pain and loneliness, passing her idle time in her later years without having to think much of the son she hasn't touched in a long time and the adorable grandson that she wishes she could spend more time with.
As she comes to know Camargo, she realizes that they have quite a bit in common in this regard. Both are in their later years, both unattached now, and both having trouble smoothing things over with their families. Their loneliness draws them together, but Dora is conflicted with wanting to with someone and doing her civic duty, as she has been obsessed with every day of her elderly life.
Interestingly enough, the strong points of the film come from the quiet interactions of the main characters and their soul-searching conversations between each other about their painful pasts. The thriller elements are thankfully ignored most of the way, as it will probably be evident to most viewers at first sight just what is going on in Camargo's apartment, although Dora only sees the crime of the situation, and not the matters of the heart.
Eventually, the film transforms into a story about two people that are getting on in years and whether or not they should let go of their pain and embrace that which they've been denying themselves all along. If you can overlook thriller plot contrivances for the sake of the richness of the themes running underneath, you'll be rewarded by a nicely developed story with characters we come to know and care about, knowing that none of it can lead to a happy ending for the movie until they resolve that the choice for a happy ending to their lives is their own choice to allow to happen.
©2005 Vince Leo