Martin and Mariana, attractive and young, live just yards apart in Buenos Aires. Each owns a shoebox apartment, loves to swim and sings along to sad Wilco ballads. He keeps his ex-girlfriend's dog Susu for company; she brings home male mannequins from her job as a window dresser. They're made for each other, but through a kind of reverse serendipity they keep just missing the opportunity to meet. In Gustavo Taretto's charming "Sidewalls," the very architecture keeps them apart, isolated in a city of 3 million.
The preordained story line is clear from the outset, yet Taretto's knack for engineering clever near-misses keeps us guessing about how and when the happy ending will arrive. The film takes some comedic emotional cues from "Manhattan," but spins the story in a distinctively different direction. The opening is a montage of city facades, but instead of Woody Allen's swooning appreciation of New York City we get an eruption of ire at the way the poorly planned Argentine metropolis jumbles its buildings together. Martin explains in voice-over that this urban mess reflects the chaotic lives of the city's inhabitants, and makes a casualty of community life.
He should know. A solitary Web designer with hypochondriac tendencies, he lives as much in the Internet's virtual world as in reality. She is a romantically disillusioned would-be architect prone to hookups that sour within hours. They socialize largely through smartphones and store memories of old relationships on their laptops.
Still, like the tenacious greenery that sprouts from chinks in the city's concrete facades, hope bursts forth. He ventures outside to walk his little cottonball pooch on the city's sardine-packed streets. She pores over the mob scenes in her tattered copy of "Where's Waldo?" seeking the elusive hero (metaphor alert!). The cartoon book's visual puns and amusing drawings are echoed in the movie's animated vignettes.
Pilar Lopez de Ayala and Javier Drolas are agreeable screen presences who save their characters from being obnoxious hipster stereotypes. Their interior monologues are cute and smart, brimming with a warmth and vulnerability they work hard to conceal in daily life. Taretto offers a charming, visually stimulating take on a familiar story of kismet. Just as Mariana is devoted to "Waldo," there's something about the old story of two lonely people seeking each other that pulls us in time after time.