Last year, I watched a film that had a great impact on me. In fact, I believe it is one of the reasons why I finally decided to study architecture. The film I am talking about is Medianeras, or Sidewalls in English.
Medianeras is an Argentinian dramatic comedy 2011 film, written and directed by Gustavo Taretto and starred by Javier Drolas (Martín) and Pilar López de Ayala (Mariana). Medianeras is in fact Taretto’s first long film, and it is based on his earlier and also awarded 2005 short film of the same name. With the film Taretto insisted in topics such as melancholy in a big city, neurosis, dependency to the virtual world and most importantly the impact of architecture in people’s life. The latter is not a surprise, I mean, at first just by reading the title of the film we can advance architecture’s importance in the film.
Can buildings, walls and windows determine our social behaviour and way to find love? What is solitude in the era of mobile phones and chats? What means having a personality and being a maniac?
Mariana and Martín are the main characters of a story about crossroads, about a love as impossible as destined to occur. They are both withdrawn and antisocial beings, who are nearly neighbours who never notice each other in the street, in neighbourhood establishments, through their windows… they fail in every sentimental attempt of finding a romantic partner. However, failure is unconsciously leading them to reunite. Even if the plot seems quite simple, it is full of observations and aesthetic reflections. Apart from this, there is a touch of absurdity that becomes comedic (for instance, a dog commits suicide).
On the one hand, we have Martin, the masculine protagonist, whose personality is influenced by Woody Allen’s agoraphobic characters. He is characterized by his humour, credibility and empathy. Nevertheless, he has kind of abandoned himself, and he has a serious problem with social activities. Due to this, Martin has “caged” himself in his small house, which he compares with a shoebox, and spends all his time on the Internet, which gives him everything he wants: a salary, he is a web designer, and even love. On the other hand, the solitude in emptiness in Mariana is more palpable. This is why for us, the viewers, it is much more difficult to connect with her. She is withdrawn and has a peculiar phobia of lifts. On top of that, following the film’s relationship with architecture, she is in fact a frustrated architect, who has never built anything and who currently works as a display window decorator. They have both failed in love, she is recovering from a four-year-long ended relationship, and he has just broken up with his long-distance girlfriend. Since it is a very lineal film which lacks secondary plots, there are few secondary characters. Even if there are some, their importance and influence in the plot is insignificant.
Architecture in the film
From the start, Medianeras is an extremely symbolic film. Taretto masterly shows in the first minutes of the film a series of photographs and angles of Buenos Aires and its architecture, where the film takes place. Meanwhile, a narrator accompanies the film’s visual analyses of the buildings with an interesting reflection, quoted in the metaphor about the architecture of a city and its relationship with its people. Architects (and people) are responsible for people’s lifestyles and healthy or unhealthy habits. This way, with this description or analysis the main point or topic of the film is presented, but also life in the big city. In the first quote cited, this curious but logical relationship between cities and people are shown. As a matter of fact, I have already talked about its influence and the existence of diseases such as SBS (Sick Building Syndrome) in another post of the blog. Basically, architecture looks like its people, and the other way round. They have a reciprocal and irrefutable bond, one influences the other, and vice versa.
“I like architecture and space, space detrmines the action. I like walking through neighbourhoods and taking pictures. When I started taking photographs, I realised architecture is reflected in people and that the city looks like its people and that people look like the city.”Taretto about the architecture influence in an interview. Source: University of Palermo
As I mentioned before, the introducing monologue also refers to people’s life in a big city. They all live rushing and obsessing with the idea of doing multiple activities, of being productive. In fact, in one occasion life in the city is compared to the drawings of the series of books Where’s Wally, known for their chaotic and overwhelming aspect. By this, the director insists on the necessity to enjoy more things.
Also, in the film spaces perfectly reflect the characters’ own self. For instance, Martin’s flat is full of action figures, posters and computers, reflecting his nerdier side. Moreover, brownish tones and order dominate the space, as well as a suffocating darkness. This darkness is the same one that metaphorically invades his mind. On the opposite side, Mariana’s flat is full of stuff and even mannequins, which represent her lacking-of-order-and-structure life.
Also, both Mariana and Martín have constant reflections about the architecture that surrounds them and how it determines them. Mariana wanders about the concept of sidewalls, facades with just a layer of paint and without (or with, if illegally) windows. Sidewalls are huge spaces that evidence the pass of time through dampness, cracks and nature slipping through them, structural errors… They are in fact blank canvases that are now being used for adverts or by artists. So that thanks to these interventions and their elements developed by the pass of time (cracks, nature, humidity…) and their textures, sidewalls have character. They now decorate the city.
Apart from these scenes, there are more scenes with references to architecture and to the meaning for our main characters. For example, Mariana talks about her favourite buildings. Once, when she goes to the Planetarium and describes its materials. Secondly, she also describes Kavanagh building and its history, emphasizing its stairs.
This film is an ode to architecture, without being exclusive for architects. From an architectural point of view, the interest of the film resides in its reflections on life and architecture. Medianeras much is more than an apparent romcom with beautiful shots of Buenos Aires. It is architecture. Taretto easily and perfectly deconstructs love stories without demolishing them, but with a detailed alternative architectural plan.