Under Music’s Influence: Our Review of ‘Al Otro Lado’

Posted in OVID.tv by - January 25, 2023
Under Music’s Influence: Our Review of ‘Al Otro Lado’

Many of the films coming soon to OVID this January are all immigrant stories. The first film I chose to write about were Sacco and Vanzetti, about the Italian-American experience during Prohibition. Then there’s Take Me Somewhere Nice, which depicts the immigrant experience within Europe. And last but not least is Natalia Almada’s Al Otro Lado. This documentary tries to do a lot and mostly succeeds within its 63 minute running time. It’s a bullet point history of the last few decades of Mexico’s corrido music. At this point in time, composers use the genre for either drug propaganda or protest. It also follows one of those aspiring composers, Magdiel, who want to write songs for both cartel leaders and for human traffickers. He hopes that they smuggle him to America for free, because America has everything.

I previously wrote in a different review that there’s something great about documentaries going macro, and Al Otro Lado does just that. It looks at both corrido music and the ambiguous activities that that genre captures on both sides of the Mexican-US border. It also looks at two of its major figures. The first is Chalino Sanchez, who was important to the Mexican-American community the same way Tupac was. Both artists made it big during the 90s to their respective communities. The second is Jenni Rivera, who discusses Chalino’s influences and hopes to fill his big shoes. I’m a fellow immigrant. And there’s something beautiful about watching Rivera and other Mexican-Americans talk about their culture in a loving manner. Almada, doing her part, captures those interviews with a rawness that competently captures the 2000s.

Al Otro Lado is, admittedly, about the touchy subjects I previously listed above, although there are some moments when covering those subjects require pushing it to its limits. One of the scenes show a body that no one ever claimed, that body withering to bones and clothes. It’s debatable as to whether these shots are necessary. And returning to the documentary’s macro aims, again it mostly succeeds in that. Since this is a documentary about the border, Almada gives a few minutes for the US Border Patrol Services and the neighbourhood watches in border states like Arizona. Sure, not all of those workers are white, and the one white interviewee does speak with nuance but the documentary doesn’t interrogate that man’s role within immigrant power dynamics. But again, for the most part, this is necessary viewing in understanding the situation within that border region.

Al Otro Lado is one of four Natalia Almada movies coming to OVID.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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