Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: De l’autre côté
France/Belgium/Australia/Finland, 2002. Arte France Cinema, Audiovisuel Multimedia International Production, Carré-Noir RTBF, Chemah I.S., Paradise Films, Special Broadcasting Service, Yleisradio. Screenplay by Chantal Akerman. Cinematography by Chantal Akerman, Robert Fenz, Rémon Fromont. Produced by Xavier Carniaux, Brigitte De Villepoix, Thierry Garrel, Elisabeth Marliangeas, Christiane Philippe, Fabrice Puchault, Luciano Rigolini, Marilyn Watelet. Film Editing by Claire Atherton.
Following her haunting investigation of Texas in 1999’s South, Chantal Akerman takes her cameras across the border to Agua Prieta, a Mexican border town whose high, lengthy wall separates its citizens from the town of Douglas, Arizona on the other side. What was, at the time of filming, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has recently made an effort to bump up security further west in San Diego to prevent migrant workers from crossing into the United States, believing that narrowing the option down to the treacherous Arizona desert as a point of travel will cut down the presence of undocumented workers in America. Instead, this move results in numerous deaths thanks to harsh survival conditions and the even more devastating human condition, which sees no end of coyotes taking the money they have been given to accompany people across the border and killing them or leaving them for dead.
Akerman’s film takes a similar structural approach to the subject as she did in South, breaking up a series of lengthy, meditative images with interviews that cover the range of personalities involved, including a Mexican woman who details life in her dusty little town, and young people who speak quite openly about their decision to head north despite their having no illusions about how hard life is for the undocumented in America.
Taking her own camera across the border, Akerman then gives screen time to a legal advocate for Mexican nationals in Arizona, who points out that undocumented workers are an essential part of America’s continued economic success, to a local couple whose only understanding of their property is through their perpetual fear of losing it, and to a sheriff who in no uncertain terms points out that the INS’s decision to push border crossings to this part of the country is premeditated murder.
The information enflames the soul while the quieter moments do what Akerman always does best, creating a sense of time and place before your very eyes that turns a viewing experience into something far more immersive, detailing a devastating reality without simplifying anything down to easy moral judgments.