‘The Other Side’: Cannes Review

A poetic but hermetic journey into a debauched and dangerous Deep South.

Italian director Roberto Minervini debuted his new feature in Cannes' Un Certain Regard.

Continuing his cinematic ramblings into the deepest corners of backwoods America, Italian filmmaker Roberto Minervini turns his camera on a set of Louisiana drug addicts and Libertarian paramilitaries in the lyrically made documentary The Other Side. Like an episode of Duck Dynasty shot by Terrence Malick, the film portrays its cast of marginal swamp folk in an extremely poetic manner, though it’s hard to love people who drop N-bombs, shoot smack and pop off M16 rounds with little regard for anything but their own so-called freedom. Graphic nudity and oodles of drugs will make it tough for this Un Certain Regard entry to break through outside of the fest circuit.

Minervini’s three previous features formed a “Texas Trilogy” whose last chapter, Stop the Pounding Heart, featured a romance of sorts between a Bible-crazed teenager and a local cowboy. There’s certainly love in the air as well between principals Mark Kelley and Lisa Allen in The Other Side, though it’s interlaced with graphic scenes of freebasing, fornicating and occasional fighting. When Mark suddenly proposes to Lisa one fine afternoon, he does it by telling her: "You gonna be my bitch, till death do us part.”

The first hour focuses on Mark’s highly debased lifestyle, which, for the most part, involves making, taking and selling drugs. (We learn later on that he's actually a felon on the run.) When he’s not getting high or having sex (one usually follows the other), Mark works an odd job or two and cares for his terminally ill mother, whose pending death weighs heavily on his conscience. He’s a damaged man, but one who seems to have a real heart, and Minervini captures his ongoing breakdown with plenty of compassion and a flair for naturalistic beauty (the film was shot in wide-screen by regular DP Diego Romero).

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Despite such directorial touches, many viewers will have a hard time digesting Mark’s drug-addled antics, especially when, at one point, he refers to President Barack Obama as a “stupid-ass n—er.” And he’s no more palatable when he’s shooting up a pregnant stripper before she goes onstage for a pole dance. It’s as if Minervini purposely chose one of the least likable guys in the entire state, daring us to watch and learn, though he gradually reveals Mark to be a broken individual who mainly hurts himself.

The film’s third section is promising but short-lived, following a group of heavily armed militiamen as they train for the upcoming apocalypse, whatever that may be. Their many calls for family and liberty are interspersed with heavy target practice and scenes of drunken mania, including a lakeside gathering where there’s a wet T-shirt contest and a woman wearing an Obama mask fellating a rubber penis. (The president takes more of a beating here than in the works of Dinesh D’Souza.)

Mining material similar to Harmony Korine's Gummo, though without the humor and verve, Minervini deserves credit for going where few high-minded filmmakers have gone before, revealing a side of Americana rarely seen onscreen. But there are moments when The Other Side seems to traverse into arts-ploitation territory, and it’s ultimately hard to tell if the movie is trying to render its subjects with some humanity or otherwise if it's taking advantage of all these poor, beautiful losers.

Production companies: Agat Films & Cie, Okta Film
Cast: Mark Kelley, Lisa Allen, James Lee Miller
Director: Roberto Minervini
Writers: Roberto Minervini, Denise Ping Lee
Producers: Muriel Meynard, Paolo Benzi, Dario Zonta
Director of photography: Diego Romero
Editor: Marie-Helene Dozo
International sales: Doc & Film International

No rating, 92 minutes