For his first film ever, Jon Wong decided to take advantage of the proximity of Valentine’s Day to bring us a little bit of a love story. But first, he dug into shortoftheweek.com and found a short with a similar feel…I don’t think I can embed from SOTW, so I’ll just give you the link to it: This Is It. I mean, that’s the link, but it’s also the name of the film. It was directed by Alexander Engel, and it actually has an IMDB entry. As for the short itself, it’s a frenetic two and a half minutes following the progression of a roommate relationship in a breakneck series of “Did you…” questions. In the 150 seconds of the film, I would not be surprised if there were 150 questions and 150 shots. Oddly enough, way more happens in the short than in the week’s feature film.
The movie starts out with a nearly interminable pastiche of the architecture (and otherwise) of Buenos Aires accompanied by an overly introspective monologue delivered by our hero Martín. We actually get another one of these towards the middle of the film narrated by our heroine Mariana which explains the concept of “sidewalls”, but since it’s my prerogative, I’m going to go out of turn and spoil the hell out of that second monologue. You see, the front, and to some extent the rear façades of the major buildings of Buenos Aires are made to be looked at, and they have the arches and ogees and whatever, while the side walls are plain, sometimes covered with advertisements but typically without even windows – unless they be illegal ones cut out by the residents in search of a bit more light for their apartment. So there’s that. That’s what the movie title means. Don’t worry, it comes back in.
Our hero Martín is a bit of a headcase, you know, in the functional way that most of us are. His girlfriend left on a three-hour tour to visit family in New Jersey seven years ago, leaving behind her yappy little dog and eventually being kind enough to call collect to say she wasn’t coming back. So Martín and the dog hang out in their dim little apartment, Martín working from home as a web developer and the dog desperately holding it.
Our heroine Mariana is an out-of-work architect who is using her design skills to create displays in shop windows on the side. She has recently broken up with a long-term boyfriend and has developed a rather unhealthy obsession for her store-window mannequins. She also refuses to use elevators. A lonely man, a lonely woman…you know what? I think these two are going to get together in the end! In an elevator! (Or not…)
Let me briefly interrupt this spoilerfest to remind Mr. Taretto of a well-known MST3K credo: Never show a good movie inside your crappy movie. That said, “Sidewalls” is not only orders of magnitude better than Overdrawn At The Memory Bank, but it’s even kind of good, so, you know, just a pointer and not really a complaint.
It turns out that Mariana has a bit of an obsession with a childhood book of hers – ¿Dondé Está Wally?, naturally. For some reason, although she can find him at the beach, and she can find him at the park, and wherever else, she can’t ever manage to find him in the city, despite the fact that she’s a grown-up and there’s really only like 200 square inches to search in. In real life, this would be a reason to check for a manufacturing defect or perhaps to get a neurological exam in case you’ve got some sort of bizarre hemi-neglect, but in the movie it’s really just some hamfisted symbolism. And if you’ve ever seen a movie (and I think you have!) you’ll get a deep suspicion that this is going to come back at some point.
One of the problems with this film is that for however charming it is, there is a full hour in the middle (of an hour-and-a-half film) that serves less to move the plot forward and more to stall for time. Of course, Martín and Mariana do not meet immediately – though they have a series of near-misses on the street, at the local pool, in the sidewalk furniture cycle. Instead they each go through an ill-fated relationship or two, covering perhaps six months, before the near-misses begin to fall fast and hard. To wit: They both decide to put in an illegal window in their sidewall, the construction of which is apparently a cottage industry in the B.A. (Sidewalls sidenote: if it’s illegal, don’t you think the landlord would notice and perhaps, I don’t know…terminate your lease for knocking out part of the building’s wall to make yourself a window?)
It turns out that they live in adjacent apartment buildings, and while they are on different floors, they can see each others’ illegal windows. Both lonely, they end up anonymously bumping into each other in a chat room, they hit it off, and Martín is about to give Mariana his phone number when there’s a major power outage. (Sad trombone) They both go downstairs to buy candles at a local shop and actually have a bit of small talk with each other, both clueless that they were trying to hook up just a few minutes before.
But the next morning Martín decides to put on his Wally outfit ex machina before going out to walk his ex-girlfriend’s dog. Mariana sees him through her sidewall window and, lest he get away, she takes the elevator – gasp! – to meet him on the street. She has finally found Wally in the city, and they live happily ever after. The end.
I think I’ve already kind of covered the things I thought were a bit subpar about the movie – completely telegraphed, could very easily have been a 20-minute film – but it wasn’t bad by any means. In fact, it was not only enjoyable but it would probably benefit from a re-viewing. I mean, it was about 30 minutes after the fact that I actually realized that the discarded chair Mariana picked up off the street corner was discarded by Martín. And there are probably a few other clever near-misses that Taretto snuck in there that I didn’t notice. At the same time, by 80 minutes into the movie I was literally talking to the screen (I missed the Cinema 1544 screening and had to watch later at home, so it’s OK) telling the movie to get on with it already. I knew where the movie was going and after spinning its wheels for so long it was time to just get there. Thankfully, the denouement (such as there was) was brief and a bit fun – basically consisting of a Martín+Mariana web video featuring the two of them lip-synching happily to Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. The movie’s over, they’re happy, we’re happy, it’s cool, it’s all good.