“Al Otro Lado” belongs to a school of cinema that I call Attention Deficit Disorder Filmmaking, where the filmmaker is incapable of keeping on track with the original subject and winds up taking weird and distracting tangents that add nothing to the story which inspired the production. In this case, the subject is a chubby-faced 23-year-old Mexican named Magdiel, who seeks to escape the monotony and poverty of poor fishing village by illegally crossing the border into America.
Magdiel fancies himself as a singer and composer of corridos, a jaunty Mexican folk music genre (heavy with accordions and guitars) that pays musical tribute to criminal elements, particularly drug dealers. The glorification of drug trafficking may not sit well with many people, but the real problem is the basic fact that Magdiel is conspicuously lacking in musical talent. This is never broached in the film, but his tuneful miscues offer the opportunity to explore the corrido subculture in great depth.
Actually, make that too much depth. At one point “Al Otro Lado” conveniently forgets about Magdiel and turns into a completely different documentary about the corrido music, particularly as interpreted by the American-born offsping of Mexican immigrants. After a while, the film shifts focus again into an examination of the attempts to stop the Mexican illegals from crossing into America. Border patrol agents and would-be vigilantes are interviewed as they capture would-be border crossers.
And Magdiel? He pops up every now and then in the course of the movie, singing off-key and dreaming about getting rich quick in America. More power to him, I guess, but it is a shame he couldn’t get himself into a better movie.