It’s perhaps appropriate that, in times like these, Italian-born director Roberto Minervini’s latest docu-study of bottomed-out American lives is his most cutting and despairing: This time, in Louisiana, he captures addiction and racism and defiant ignorance, from the white felon expectorating slurs at the black president he’s convinced has something to do with his problems to a go-nowhere militia eager to seize its country back. (To that end, they blow up a car in the woods.)
The angry felon, Mark, who is putting off his prison sentence until after the imminent death of his mother, shoots some heroin and engages in some nude canoodling with Lisa, his more pleasant sweetie, for the camera. Later, we see a pregnant woman in lingerie shooting up, too, and then working the stage at an armpit strip club.
It’s all shocking, of course, but it also often looks staged and performed rather than merely observed. Real folks drop trou, spike their veins, and curse other races for Minervini’s cameras, but none of the deviance they get up to — including the woman in an Obama mask blowing a good-ol’-boy’s rubber dick while his buddies crack “Obamacare” jokes — is as interesting as whatever the behind-the-scenes discussions between the director and these people must have been like.
They’re playing the most outrageous versions of themselves, railing against a country that seems to have no particular use for them. But why? The photography tears all the beauty it can from these lives.
The Other Side
Directed by Roberto Minervini
Opens May 20, Film Society of Lincoln Center
Available on Fandor