Side by Side
What a beautiful movie. And so simple, too.
Documentarian Christian Sonderby Jepsen didn't go far to find the subject for his 36-minute film: His parents' back yard, in fact. For more than 15 years, his father Poul Jepsen has not spoken with his next-door neighbor, Svend Frost. The two men in West Jutland, Denmark, erected a massive multi-row hedge to shut themselves off from each other. Their friends and families, even their wives, don't really know why.
So Christian set out to find out why.
The result is intimate and powerful, and serves as a meditation on how masculine pride can result in decades of antagonism over a minor spat.
Poul Jepsen, who is in his late middle years and takes great pleasure in working in his garden with his wife, relates that it began when Frost lost his temper at two of his sons, chasing them into their house and banging on the window. He found such behavior reprehensible, and angrily chewed his neighbor out. They have not spoken since.
But discrepencies apear in the accounts. When the director interviews Frost, who is quite elderly, he mistakenly refers to a pair of girls who insulted him. He never stepped foot across the property line, he claims. What is the truth? Is one of the two men lying? Has Frost mis-remembered the events due to senility?
With simple yet wondrous ease, Christian puts his camera in front of these two garden-putterers and lets them talk. In the course of the discussions, they are forced to face a spat that they barely remember, yet has had such a consequential effect on their lives. In the course of this uncomfortable -- for them -- exploration, new truths are discovered.
This is one of the most emotionally satisfying cinematic experiences I can remember.