Monday, October 24, 2011

Gustavo Taretto's SIDEWALLS: Argentine rom-com offers smarts, heart and art

How nice to see a smart, character-driven rom-com for a change -- with the added fillip of appearing so timely that it creates our current web-driven era with utter specifi-city and attention to detail. This, of course, has its flip side. I suggest you see the movie quickly, as it may seem dated all too soon. SIDEWALLS (Medianeras in the original Spanish, and no, it's not about tires; the title refers to the walls of buildings on which various marketing messages are painted) -- the new Argentine movie (his first full-length) from Gustavo Taretto -- begins with a lovely, heartfelt critique of the architecture and the "look" of the city. While the speaker (our hero, Martin, a recovering phobic) is talking of Buenos Aires, he might well be referring to New York, Los Angeles, Madrid or even Paris. The faults he finds are epidemic and international.

This opening salvo indicates what kind of film we're about to see: intelligent, a little obsessed, and light on its feet. Señor Taretto, shown at left, then introduces his heroine, Mariana (the lovely Pilar López de Ayala, below, of late the airborne corpse in The Strange Case of Angelica), who's equally obsessed but about different things. She shows us her favorite book -- a kind of children's game caled Where's Wally -- and then frets at how she literally cannot find Wally in the particular spread in which he's walking through the city. (We found him quite readily; clearly Mariana has some sort of perception deficit, among other problems.)

The two -- though they live practically next door and pass each other unnoticed (see below) on the street -- have never met. Nor will they for quite some time, though it becomes clear, from nearly the get-go, that, moviewise, they're made for each other.

Martin -- played by a charmer named Javier Drolas (below: imagine a combination of Eduardo Noriega and Daniel Hendler and you'll get some sense of Drolas' odd appeal) --  has been dumped by his girl (who moved to America but left him her dog to care for) and so has taken to his computer for everything from work to art to reading material and sex.

Mariana, an anchitect without a single building design to her credit and not much hope of a job anytime soon (the financial recession is in full swing here) has taken to designing shop windows. (Her explanation of why this works for her is one of the many intelligent delights of the film.)

How youth lives now is captured by Taretto remarkably well, I think, and there are some extremely charming and interesting scenes along the way: taking the elevator or walking up stairs to get to a penthouse restaurant, how piano music can sooth or make harsher one's life, a pick-up in a public swimming pool.

What there is not -- and while this may not be a fatal flaw, it prevents the film from really taking off -- is momentum. We know from the outset that our pair should and will meet, but having seen a few movies in our time, we also know that this will probably not happen until nearly the end. Other filmmakers -- Claude Lelouch, for instance  (And Now My Love) -- have done a similar things but provided a much richer background, more incident, and that missing, snowballing momentum.

Sidewalls meanders, and while it is fun to consider the many positives and negatives of city life in the age of "virtual" and to spend time with these bright, thoughtful, needy folk (and quite lovely to hear their quick, smart dialog and narration), eventually we still want more. We get it -- suddenly -- at the climax, but by then, some of us may have lost enough interest not to care quite as much as we should.

The movie, another worthwhile, if flawed, entry from Sundance Selects, opens this Wednesday, in New York at the IFC Center, followed soon by its VOD release (the web page currently says October 26, which would make it simultaneous with theatrical), and eventually onto DVD.

All photos are from the film itself, except that of Señor Taretto, 
which is by Nora Lezano.

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