From The Other Side

Depending on which side of the heavily patrolled yet still permeable Mexican-U.S. border you happen to be standing, the title of this poetic documentary essay from Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman refers either to the promise of prosperity or the threat of invasion. For many Mexicans, particularly those who gather in the Sonora border town of Agua Prieta...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Depending on which side of the heavily patrolled yet still permeable Mexican-U.S. border you happen to be standing, the title of this poetic documentary essay from Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman refers either to the promise of prosperity or the threat of invasion. For many Mexicans, particularly those who gather in the Sonora border town of Agua Prieta and wait for their chance to enter Arizona, the "other side" is a land of abundant menial labor and relatively high wages — if they can survive the dangerous crossing. For certain residents of southwestern towns like Douglas, Ariz., and owners of the prosperous ranches that sprawl across the surrounding plains, the land beyond the border is teeming with impoverished and disease-ridden trespassers with no regard for the constitutionally granted right to own and protect their private property. Akerman devotes the first half of this two-part film on one side of the issue and the second on the other. First she interviews family members of Mexican migrants who died while attempting to cross into the U.S. from Agua Prieta (as well as a few who lived to tell the tale). Then she crosses into Arizona and talks to landowners who, worried about the diseases and threat of terrorism they're convinced these "invaders" carry with them, literally fear for their lives. Akerman also meets with a county sheriff who lays the blame for the increasing number of migrant fatalities squarely on the misguided efforts of the INS to tighten security around the traditional crossing points. Far from discouraging migrants from making the journey, the strategy has forced them to attempt far more dangerous desert and mountain routes, often with catastrophic results. Though it clearly explicates the problem, the film is by no means a straightforward documentary; Akerman is a first-rate visual artist, and the film's most eloquent passages are her long, silent shots of the landscape that soon reveal deeper layers of meaning. A creepy nightcrawl through the pitch-black desert with the border guard becomes a chilling game of hide and seek. The funereal fence that divides one country from another becomes a forbidding psychological barrier, signifying inaccessible prosperity to the migrants of Mexico and a fragile safety to their neighbors on the other side.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Depending on which side of the heavily patrolled yet still permeable Mexican-U.S. border you happen to be standing, the title of this poetic documentary essay from Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman refers either to the promise of prosperity or the threat o… (more)
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