Thoughts On: Sidewalls - Romantic Tension


Sidewalls - Romantic Tension

Thoughts On: Sidewalls (Medianeras, 2011)

Two lost romantics wander though their lives and city in seeming search of one another.

Sidewalls is a slightly cheesy and very predictable romance, but, I have to say I loved it. He is a recluse and a geek confined to his apartment. She is a quirky aspiring architect who can't be in elevators. They are both single, in search of love and lost in a haphazardly developed city and in an overwhelming digital age.

These are very common romantic tropes that we would have all come into contact with many times before. For example, this bears a tone and aesthetic very reminiscent 500 Days Of Summer. However, the key spark of near-originality that Sidewalls has going for it is its context - this is set in Buenos Aires - and its structure - this is less a romance and more a clumsy adventure that preempts a romance.

It is the manner in which the setting of this narrative interacts with this structure that then makes this so endearing - even ingenious at points. Like many romances, Sidewalls is a study of chance and destiny. However, this is consciously recognised throughout, and so there forms a game between audience and filmmaker under a question of: When will they meet? This is key to all romances; the audience is allowed to know or recognise something that the characters can't or won't. In It Happened One Night, for example, we all know that Peter and Ellie are perfect for one another in spite of their antagonistic relationship. It is this reflexivity and the embrace of contrivance that makes romances work; we know how things are going to end, we just want to enjoy the journey to that point.

To make this journey towards a predictable end interesting, many filmmakers have him and her meet, but then break up before, in the finale, coming back together at a train station or an airport. Bridging towards the melodrama, this finale may even occur at a wedding in which a love triangle is broken down as we would like it to be.

We are all very aware of these paradigms of the traditional romance, and I have to admit that I struggle to complain about a romance done well. What makes Sidewalls so interesting, however, is that it takes away romantic frustration and instead builds romantic tension. In such, there is no break up in this film. What this emphasises - much like Amélie does - is the relationship between hope, despair and fate in romances.

Fate hangs over all traditional romances: we know how things are going to end. However, within the narrative, there often isn't a sense of fate, instead a hope for a happy ending that is projected through the characters who want to find Mr. or Mrs. Right. A tension is drawn out of this as the characters also project despair. And so the joy of watching traditional romances like Sidewalls is being able to indulge giddy feelings of hope, melancholic sensations of despair, and all whilst knowing that everything will come to a satisfying end.

The traditional romance, seen in such a light, is then a form of cinema that most purely captivates the idea that cinema is a form of simulation. The space we step into with movies like Sidewalls is an inconsequential one in which existentially crushing themes are raised, only so they can be put to rest within an hour or so. We may then ask: What is the point of this kind of romance? Why pose questions and conflicts that are only going to be solved for an audience member?

In asking this question, we can stumble upon the more sinister side of romances that many pick up on as capitalist, normative propaganda. Romances, whilst they don't always provide open ends, do hold up a mirror to our lives and, in a way, project anxiety through us and have us question: Why haven't I found Mr. or Mrs. Right; why aren't I living happily ever after?

As mentioned, many look upon this a problematic and damaging as romances project false expectations of love. I personally could agree with this - but only if every single romance ever made followed a predictable structure towards a happy ending. However, there are, of course, films such as Blue Valentine that show the darker side of romance; films such as Roman Holiday that don't provide true catharsis despite their romanticism; or films such as Don Jon that provide reality checks and comment on the contrivance of the traditional romance. What we see all of these films doing is challenging the form of romantic films as to challenge their audience. And, in more general terms, this is what a vast majority of realist or art house cinema attempts to do: not provide the sensational.

However, seeing these two forms of cinema - the realist, art house and the blockbuster/genre film - as being in a relationship, reveals the virtues of the 'problematic' romance. By showing life in a romantic light and emphasising the ideal, traditional romances challenge their audience by showing them their dreams. To suggest that this contrived cinema is problematic because of this suggests that having dreams is, in a way, a problem. Of course, critics of such an idea would suggest that it is not the presence of the dream, but the construction and propagation of specific drams that make the traditional romance problematic. But, being the average Joe that studios make these movies for, I fail to find malice in this. Maybe this is because I'm a zombie and cog in the capitalist system. To whatever degree this is true, I'd also emphasise the idea that there is a relationship in the romantic genre between the likes of Sidewalls and Blue Valentine. Because of this, we can accept the challenge that the traditional, indirectly demoralising romance poses as well as that which the realist, directly demoralising romance does.

There is a larger paradigm at play in which we see contrived cinema battle against realist cinema; the genre film do battle against alternative cinema. And whilst it seems that more contrived cinema exists than realist cinema, if we consider the entirety of film history and the scope of world cinema, it is hard to complain about the composition of our cinematic diet; if you feel like you're lacking some dark drama, go find some - there's more out there than you could see in a life time. In contrast to this, if you feel like you want to see a good traditional romance, here's one at your finger tips. Go see Sidewalls.

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