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The Other Side of the Street (A Movie Review)


Starring Fernanda Montenegro, Raul Cortez, Laura Cardoso, Luis Carlos Persy, Milene Pizarro and Marcio Vito.

Screenplay by Marcos Bernstein and Melanie Dimantas.

Directed by Marcos Bernstein.

Distributed by Strand Releasing/Columbia Tri-Star Pictures (Brazil). 98 minutes. Not Rated.

The surprise popularity a couple of years ago of Something's Gotta Give with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson was a reminder that films almost never focus on the elderly. This Brazilian export is quiet and lovely exploration of the life of people past a certain age – a time where people no longer have work, or romance, or many friends left to pass the time.

Fernanda Montenegro (who is best remembered outside her homeland for being nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in the 1998 film Central Station) stars as Regina. She is a lonely woman who lives in a high-rise apartment in a beach town with her beloved dog Bettina. She is a doting Grandmother, but she has become estranged from her son because he allows her ex-husband to live with him. She is a judgmental woman who uses her sense of humor as a weapon and to keep people at a distance.

The most important part of her life is as a part of the "senior squad," a group of older volunteers who agree to report crimes they see to the local police. While most of the squad members just do it as a lark, Regina takes it very seriously, going to clubs looking for crime and spending much of her time watching her neighbors through binoculars.

One night, while doing her spying ritual, she notices an elderly man (played by Raul Cortez, another venerable Brazilian star) giving his wife an injection. Later, when she looks back into the apartment, she finds that the woman is dead.

Certain that she has witnessed a murder, she reports what happened to the local police official (Luis Carlos Persy), a man who often gets annoyed with the nosy older woman but can't help but like her. However, when the police look into the death, it turns out the man is a respected retired judge and the death is ruled to be from natural causes.

Regina is certain that it is a conspiracy to cover up the well-connected man's misdeeds, so she decides to investigate on her own. She takes to following the judge, Camargo, around to try and find clues.

At this point, the film seems like a nice variation on the Rear Window formula. However, it soon takes a quick right turn when Camargo sees Regina foiling a mugging at a bank and starts talking to her. Then he asks her out. At first, Regina sees it as a way to keep her eye on the man, but as they spend more and more time with each other, the lonely pair find themselves drawn to each other.

Thankfully, this film is much more subtle and thoughtful than it would be if made in Hollywood, where it would undoubtedly end with Regina fighting for her life as the murderer that she loves shows his true colors.

Bernstein's film is much quieter and more shaded in hues of gray. In the end, Regina never knows for sure exactly how guilty or innocent the judge really is, however she finds out that there was a lot more to what happened than she was able to glean from afar through her binoculars.

Instead, the movie becomes an exploration of two people who had been trying to find something to fill the time while waiting for death. Through bravery and the ability to let down their defenses, they are able to find a new sense of purpose. (3/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: February 23, 2005.


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