Sometimes in filmmaking, simplicity is key. Rod Freedman in "Wrong Side of the Bus" takes a complex subject and makes an intensely personal film that is all the more effective due to its narrative specificity. At a running time of only 56 minutes, this film is both lively and thoughtful--weighing in on universally important issues in an accessible and relatable way. As Freedman's subject, Sidney Bloch struggles with guilt for having lived in an Apartheid era South Africa, he wants to explore his complicity and/or responsibility these many years later. Returning for a school reunion, he ruminates about his lack of involvement in addressing societal wrongs during his youth. Along for the ride is his son Aaron, who provides a great deal of insight, modern perspective, and equanimity in dealing with his father's dilemma. Shot basically as a home movie, the film is largely a dialogue between father and son--and this very bare bones presentation has surprising effectiveness.
In truth, I didn't expect to be as caught up in this film as I was. I was afraid it was going to wield a heavy hand to make its message. But each of us has to redress our guilt in his own way. And this simple trip home never felt preachy or overwrought--it was one man's search for his own answers. And in seeking those very personal answers, the film is open-ended enough to make you think about what you might have done in similar circumstances. The Blochs are engaging and personable hosts, and the film also flows with an easy charm that was completely unexpected.
Seeking forgiveness, Bloch ultimately confronts his own underlying racism. The film is remarkably open and truthful. Oftentimes Bloch is his own worst critic--and his son is constantly at hand to challenge or reaffirm his assertions. It is a refreshingly honest father/son dialogue that is quite unusual and integral to the movie's success. Nothing can be solved, obviously, but both men move toward a greater understanding of themselves and each other. By being so simple and so straightforward, "Wrong Side of the Bus" is perhaps the most unassuming film about such a weighty topic that you're likely to encounter. Because of that, it seems remarkably unique. About 4 1/2 stars, I'll round up for its quiet power. KGHarris, 8/11.