Dir. Roberto Minervini. 91 minutes.
Documentaries on the suffering, the oppressed and the dispossessed are common fare at film festivals. We all know the images: gritty, matter-of-fact shots of emaciated villagers, the sort of material that might be used to collect money for UNICEF. But what about suffering and squalor that isn’t foreign enough to seem noble? Roberto Minervini’s documentary “The Other Side” takes us not to Colombia or Uganda, but to the backwaters of Louisiana, where the impoverished bastard children of America eke out a living.
Anyone offended by the voyeurism of documentary filmmaking should steer clear: “The Other Side” opens on a scene of a man passed out in the nude next to a gravel road, and it only gets worse from there. Minervini’s eye is lyrical without being sentimental: in one scene, a woman receives an intravenous injection of methamphetamine as the camera dollies out to reveal that she is several months pregnant. In another, an intoxicated elderly man attempts to comfort a crying child, but only succeeds in falling on top of her. Glass pipes, pill bottles and cans of beer are never far from hand. By the time the subjects launch into racial diatribes against Barack Obama, it’s clear that personal prejudice is probably the least of their problems. Here is life somewhere between the blue-collar and the medieval.
Minervini has filmed several documentaries in similar settings, among what we could call “marginalized communities” were they not composed mainly of heterosexual white Americans. Perhaps it takes an unfamiliar eye to show us what we’ve been missing all along.