Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and if you’re looking for a quirky, indie-type film about finding love in the age of urban alienation, I recommend Sidewalls (2011). It’s in subtitles. I’m not just recommending it for couples — in fact, I think it appeals more to those who often find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to love. Like the store windows Mariana designs and displays her mannequins in, the film navigates that lost space between inside and outside where you don’t really know what space you want to stand in and commit to. You want the city to see you but you also want it to swallow you.
I knew nothing about Buenos Aires before watching the film. I still don’t know much, but I did learn that it is a poorly planned city, a hodgepodge of architectural styles that looks like a blindfolded kid was handed way too many pictures and not enough cardboard and was told to make a collage. Just glue them all down!
Next to a tall one, a small one.Next to a rational one, an irrational one.Next to a French one, one with no style at all.These irregularities probably reflect us perfectly. A esthetic and ethical irregularities. These buildings, which adhere to no logic, represent bad planning. Just like our lives:We have no idea how we want them to be. We live as if Buenos Aires were a stopover. We’ve created a “culture of tenants”. (Martin)
There’s one way out of the oppression that results from living in a shoebox. An escape route: Illegal, like all escape routes. In clear violation of urban planning norms, there are a few tiny, irregular, irresponsible windows that let a few miraculous rays of light into our darkness. (Mariana)
You can probably already tell the film delves into the philosophical – and, of course, the architectural. I really liked the emphasis on how the architecture of the city reflects the architecture of our lives. People are not that different from buildings.
Martin and Mariana live in next-door apartment buildings and are perfect for each other in a city where they keep meeting other people who aren’t perfect for them. The only problem is Martin and Mariana have never met. A sidewall (medianeras) between their buildings separates or connects them, depending on which way you look at it.
I responded to the film with a poem. It probably only makes sense if you’ve seen the movie and, if you have seen it, you’ll recognize some lines taken directly from it:
Sidewalls by Charlene Kwiatkowski
power lines crisscross
rooftop to rooftop
apartment to apartment
buildings stack like dirty dishes
new china with old paris
a leaning tower of pizza
there is no view
behind this curtain of concrete
you find him at the airport, at the beach, at the mall,
but never in the city
if you can’t find a person when you know who you’re looking for
how can you find a person when you don’t know who you’re looking for?
winter is always long
full of existential questions
are his red and white stripes
these power lines connecting us
these buildings like faces
fronts and backs
we don’t use anymore
we slip in and out by the sidewall
walk the same street, watch the same people
live such parallel lives
our lines never meet
Don’t let my poem mislead you though – watch the film yourself. And on the subject of side-by-side lives, check out this piece.