I like to tell anyone who’ll listen that Argentina is producing some of the most imaginative cinema in the world right now. The LA Film Festival presentation of Gustavo Taretto’s Sidewalls (Medianeras), for all its slightly inconsequential whimsy a smart, detailed and funny romance-in-waiting comedy that happily upholds the national reputation.
As much as anything else, the film is also a city portrait, introducing itself as such with a fine skyline montage in lovely gray dawn light, moving in on details whilst the voiceover makes an effective case for the emotional power of architecture. The specific effect of the city on the film’s two protagonists, Martin and Mariana, is that they can be near neighbours without realising it, and that each one’s apartment benefits from the addition of a small window (hilariously placed).
Voiceover dominates the film, alternating between the two characters, as each shows us the floorplan of their apartments, describes their lives and past relationships, and enumerates various things such as the contents of Martin’s “survival” backpack for when he goes out: he’s a recovering sufferer of panic attacks, and a web designer who feels like he “sat down at my computer ten years ago and never got up”. Mariana on the other hand is an architect who’s never had anything built, rather shell-shocked by the end of a 4-year relationship (now indulging in an amusingly why-not thing with a shop-window mannequin). Each goes on a couple of hilariously unsuccessful dates, also in a may-as-well sort of way, but otherwise they remain solitary, not quite lonely, and both more or less, it seems, having given up the hope for Mr/Ms Right.
That the two are going to meet is fondly inevitable, and the manner in which it happens balances obviousness with suddenness and sweetness. We’re firmly rooting for them by this time: both Javier Drolas and Pilar López de Ayala are hugely appealing, he shaggy and doleful, a depressed Paul Coelho, as he has it; and she is smart and stunningly beautiful, in that remarkably everyday Argentinian way. Such is their charm that the Youtube coda to the film is both surprisingly unimaginative and something of a let-down: we’ve enjoyed being in their company so much that we’d like to see more of them in one another’s.
But that’s hardly the point of the film. Nor indeed is the influence of the city on the individual, really, but the city portrait is terrific, shot by DP Leandro Martínez : steel and glass, hodgepodge styles, gorgeous belle epoque frontages and even a nice discursion on the unclassified plants that tenaciously sprout from the cracks. No surprise that Martin includes a copy of Playtime in his backpack (there’s also a wonderfully Tati-esque shot of an absurd field of arms rising and falling from the surface of a swimming bath). That the two strands of the film do not quite meld is easily forgiven when it is all accomplished with such neat construction, wit and charm.
Enjoy the Trailer below…