Monday, October 24, 2011

Sidewalls: A Shut-In’s Walking Tour of Buenos Aires

Most people think of Buenos Aires as a city of melancholy old world charm, but there is a building boom underway. It has resulted in a hodge-podge of architectural styles a lonely resident blames for all of the city’s ills. Yet, the resulting urban eccentricity might just suit the unplanned nature of the protagonists’ lives in Gustavo Taretto’s unusually stylish romantic comedy Sidewalls (a.k.a. Medianeras, trailer here), which opens this Wednesday in New York at the IFC Center.

Both Martin and Mariana are in a bit of a rut after difficult break-ups. He keeps irregular hours building websites, hardly ever socializing, online or off. She is an architect forced to work designing store windows late at night. Mariana also has a compulsive fear of elevators. They are a cosmically matched couple, but they will need fate to intervene if they are ever going to meet, despite their close proximity.

While Taretto’s script makes a point of bemoaning the city’s close-quartered eclecticism, it is clear he really has an abiding affection for the sprawling city. He and cinematographer Leandro Martinez make Buenos Aires’ diverse structures spring vividly to life, particularly the art-deco Kavanagh Building and the Galileo Galilei planetarium. Indeed, Tarreto invests the film with striking visual panache, even integrating the occasional animated sequence.

However, as Martin, Javier Drolas does not look so good. He needs a good shave and a wardrobe upgrade (even Old Navy would do). In fact, though likable enough, both leads are initially so deliberately withdrawn, they are largely overshadowed the character of Buenos Aires throughout the film’s first act. Still, Pilar López de Ayala is especially convincing slowly bringing Mariana out of her shell. She also has the advantage of more distinctive idiosyncrasies to deal with, including an obsession with an old Where’s Wally book (the striped shirt clad chap known in North America as Waldo).

Shrewdly, Taretto never forces the near-misses and tangential connections as Martin and Mariana go about their solitary lives. Instead, he shows their clear affinities, making viewers want them to get together. In the process, he gives the audience quite an appealing walking tour of Buenos Aires.

Up until the clichéd final sequence, Sidewalls ranks as one of the most artfully rendered romantic comedies in recent memory. It is one of the few narrative films that could easily be screened in an architectural film festival. A rom-com with heart and a solid grounding in urban planning and design (at long last), Sidewalls is warmly recommended when it opens this Wednesday (10/26) in New York at the IFC Center.