The third ‘direction’ film by Chantal Akerman’s (after D’Est [1993] and Sud [1999]) is From the Other Side and focuses on the US-Mexican border, specifically the ranch land of Arizona.

Jerry White
Jerry White is a professor in Film Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada, and also President of the Canadian Association for Irish Studies.

From The Other Side

Chantal Akerman.

France/Belgium 2002, 99 min.

Like Sud, which focussed on small-town Texas, From the Other Side is shot on video, and while there are moments where this doesn’t work well at all, this latest documentary is for the most part a fine continuation of Akerman’s ongoing concerns and aesthetic tendencies.

The work has a number of quite extraordinary, lengthy and fluid tracking shots, many of which are reminiscent of D’est, which was on 35mm (those long takes were often shot out of streetcars whereas these are often shot from pickup trucks). A particularly compelling example is when Akerman’s camera takes us across the Mexican border into Arizona. It is a slow, languid image utterly devoid of the kind of bravado that immortalized the opening scene of Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958), which also crosses the Mexican border in a single shot.

Indeed, despite the fact that From the Other Side has a semi-activist sensibility, this is very much a work of Akerman-esque minimalism. These tendencies are forcefully merged during an interview with the Mexican consul in southern Arizona, who is charged with looking out for the interests of Mexican nationals in the state. He makes the standard (and entirely reasonable) argument about how Mexican migrants, far from being a drain on the local economy, are actually sustaining it and are in fact instrumental in making the US globally competitive. But as he rambles on, a ringing phone obscures his voice (shades of Akerman’s 1977 film *News from Home, where the voiceover was often obscured by subway sounds), and at one point he pauses for a very long time as he gathers his thoughts. All the while, he is very poorly lit, though never fully obscured; the scene feels vaguely eerie, and it’s hard to tell why. A sense of cool detachment, as well as an insistence on combining a certain ‘chunkiness’ with a serious attention to image composition, have long been hallmarks of Akerman’s work. It is refreshing to find them intact as she shifts to a sort of activist video model.

 


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