|The Other Side of
aka El Otro Lado de la Cama
Spanish language. Spain/USA, 2002. Rated R. 104 minutes.
Ernesto Alterio, Paz Vega, Guillermo Toledo, Natalia Verbeke, Alberto
San Juan, Maria Esteve, Ramon Barea
|Grade: D+||Review by Erika Hernandez|
any critics believe that any filmbe it animation, comedy, science fiction, or pornis to some extent a reflection of its originators' value system. Likewise, if you devote time and money to see it, it is a reflection of YOURS. If you digest film through this humanistic lens, it can interfere with going to the movies for mere entertainment. However, the more you consider this approach, the more it makes senseespecially when films are embraced by critics and audiences alike.
By this rationale, The Graduate was not just a "good" film, but also a cultural signpost that ushered us into sweet Antiestablishment. There's Something About Mary was "so funny," because it flaunted gross-out humor precisely when we needed it, during an almost oppressive era of political correctness (not that there's anything wrong with that). The Academy's lauding of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon illustrated not only that we love CGI, but that we were ready for film to be a transnational medium.
Humanism would also explain that when the economy is down and there is impending war, we tend to crave, among other things, Escape. This justified the advent and raging success of the film musical in the 1930s. This is also why we are giving Aussies and ex-Texas cheerleaders Golden Globes for acting like Broadway stars.
What, then, can one say when the latest film to sweep both Spanish audiences (it was a huge blockbuster) and critics (it received six Goya Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director) is essentially a Latin Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice ON ICE?! Whatdear God!is going on when the Sundance Channel opts fluff and calls it "a confusing intersection of love and desire"? Just how much do we currently need shallow diversion? If The Other Side of the Bed is any indication, the answer is VERY BLOOMING BADLY.
The Other Side of the Bed is set in modern-day Madrid and follows the romantic lives of four friends: Javier (Ernest Alterio), Sonia (Paz Vega, Sex and Lucia's protagonist), Paula (Natalia Verbeke), and Pedro (Guillermo Toledo). If you have seen even one episode of "Melrose Place" or can handle call waiting, the plotline is easy to follow.
Paula breaks up with Pedro, because she is secretly having an affair with his best friend, Javier. Javier has promised Paula that he will break up with his live-in girlfriend Sonia, but reneges, in order to have them both. To keep Pedro away from Paula, Javier encourages him to go out with someonea crack whore, a lesbian, a loquacious airheadanyone. Little does Javier know, however, Pedro will soon be easing his pain with none other than Sonia.
Director Emilio Martinez-Lazaro and writer David Serrano attempt to augment the above triteness with musical interludes. Yes, amid the angst of loving and losing and double-crossing and suspicion, The Other Side of the Bed's main characters and their friends burst into songspecifically contemporary Spanish pop hits. Paula gleefully pleads with Javier while writhing on a conference table to "Dime Que Me Quieres" ("Tell Me That You Love Me"). Javier and his male friends twirl around pool cues and lament how "Las Chicas Son Guerreras" ("Women Are Warriors"). Javier, thrown on the horns of his Sonia/Paula dilemma, bats himself about his health club's locker room walls (which, by the way, translucently veil a chorus line of leotard-clad female hips and thighs). "No Se Que Hacer," he pants ("I don't know what to do").
Um…okay? When you sing and dance in this context, we really don't know what to do either, guys. Should we lament your ambivalence? Should we laugh, chalking it up to fun farce? Or should we just shut up and groove along with you, because damn it, you are Latin?
Directors have incorporated overt musical lyricism into romantic comedy for decades (from Ernst Lubitsch's The Love Parade to Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You). So, these song and dance numbers cannot solely be perceived as groundbreaking. The question then becomes, "Do they enhance or detract from the narrative?" The verdict is clearly the latter, and since no real narrative exists, these numbers emerge not as novel, but novelty.
The true offense of The Other Side of the Bed, though, is that its light-hearted musical sequences brazenly trivialize its larger thematic elements. The issues and questions with which our poor characters struggle are, after all, valid ones. Among them: Is monogamy a realistic institution? Can one love two people concurrently? Does a long-lasting partnership inherently see the decline of carnal desire?
The viewer sees these addressed through intermittent moments of solid acting. For example, Sonia seduces Pedro by drawing his mouth to hers, while expressing a desire for "warm milk." She holds his face again softly, their lips gently gliding. She offers him the forbidden, as she whispers, "Mas leche?" ("More milk?") Paula and Javier have a hotel scene in which the viewer gets a sense of what he has promised her. They begin to make love while speaking of a life together that will never be realized. For a moment, they capture the intimate and sad side of an affair. Subtle and effective, these moments almost caused me to exclaim, "Please, don't ruin it by singing a bubbly tune. I am almost moved here!"
Regrettably, that tune lurks around the corner. Once again, the issues are trampled upon...literally and up-tempo. Sealed with a coda in which the entire cast is choreographed to whirl around the dance floor one more time, none of what has been even remotely addressed matters.
Yes, the human condition at times craves Escape, but one will not find it in The Other Side of the Bed. For what lies there is nothing more than a sad, little dance of dearth.
© August 2003 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2003 Sundance Channel L.L.C. All Rights Reserved.
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