Don’t expect much in the way of guidance when you enter “The Other Side.”
Devoid of any voice-over, talking heads, or text, Roberto Minervini’s documentary about meth addicts and militiamen in the Louisiana bayou country immerses you unescorted, except by the invisible hand of the editing process, in an alien but strangely familiar part of America. Using techniques similar to those applied by Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab in films like “Foreign Parts” and “Sweetgrass,” it opens up a part of America about which few have a clue and fewer care.
They should. These people epitomize the rage, need, fear, and hope that roils deep within the national psyche.
Minervini shares their lives with an unabashed intimacy rarely seen in nonfiction films. Early in “The Other Side,” Mark, one its central subjects, appears naked and asleep in the grass, like Adam in Eden. He wakes up and strolls down the road, smoking something that is probably not a cigarette.
Mark is a meth addict, a drug dealer, and an ex-felon. He speaks with a seductive drawl that suggests an unwholesome Jack Nicholson character. He seems to epitomize a stereotype, but he’s pretty savvy. When he and a kid break into a school, they ponder a poster on the wall illustrating how capitalism works. Mark articulately and ironically applies the concepts to their own drug trade.
But Mark would make a poor capitalist. He’s too nice a guy. He gives people their fix on credit. He does favors for neighbors. He loves his family and his girlfriend. He tells her that when his mother dies, to prevent himself from succumbing completely to grief and drugs, he will turn himself in to the police. He’ll get three months in jail, enough to get clean and maybe start a new life.
The militiamen have a different vision of the future. Prior to live-fire training exercises, their leader explains their purpose. The government is about to do to America what it’s done to other countries, he tells them. Set up martial law and take our guns and tell us what to do. You can see it’s coming from the crazy things they are doing already, letting murderers go free and putting people away for 20 years for smoking dope. That’s why we will have to fight. Not because of politics. But for our rights, our lives, and our families.
They have a barbecue with their families. Also with girls competing in a wet T-shirt contest. One of them wears an Obama mask and performs fellatio on a militia member.
Back at training, they shoot up a car with assault rifles then blow it up with explosives. In the back seat is a dummy wearing the Obama mask.
This is “The Other Side.” Look away at your own peril.
“The Other Side” screens Aug. 26–Sept. 7 at the Museum of Fine Arts.