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MOVIE REVIEW

By focusing on young at heart, 'Street' raises age-old concerns

''The Other Side of the Street" is for audiences who have been around the block. Which is fine -- the kids have the new ''Star Wars" movie to preoccupy them this week, so anyone given to adult concerns can unwind and take in this tough, sentimental Brazilian drama about two young souls distressed to find themselves in elderly bodies.

''I still see myself in a way nobody else does. I still see myself as I always have." So says Regina, a 65-year-old woman in Rio de Janeiro going around the bend from loneliness, stubbornness, and her refusal to admit she has grown old. The character -- indeed, the movie -- is made bearable by the woman playing her, the great Fernanda Montenegro (''Central Station"), who has the face of a fallen pixie and Bette Davis's way with a highhanded nuance.

Regina lives with her stumpy mutt Betina in a beachside apartment building. She has no friends and can't bear to visit her son and grandson since her ex-husband lives with them, so she signs up with a senior citizen's police hotline. This allows her to dress up in leather pants and go to discos, where she calls in the cops to arrest drug dealers and panderers. It's the only drama in her life -- the only anything in her life -- and when she goes too far one evening and the detective in charge of the program (Luis Carlos Persy) tells her to get lost, despairingly lost is exactly what she gets.

Her error was in spying on the couple in the high-rise across the street and reporting what she's convinced was a murder. Because the suspect is a distinguished ex-judge named Camargo (Raul Cortez), no one seems to care, so Regina decides to do a little snooping on her own. Just as ''The Other Side of the Street" is starting to resemble an ungainly Brazilian mix of ''Rear Window" and ''Murder She Wrote," the plot curlicues further when the judge takes a shine to his stalker. What was a suspense movie is now a very nervous romance.

Under all these genre games is what director/co-writer Marcos Bernstein is truly after: How becoming elderly can betray a person's trust in life, youth, spirit, and how retreating into isolation is possibly the worst response. Regina is, at heart, still a high-school busybody, and she can't understand where all her classmates have gone. Every day she gives her mirror a big lipstick kiss so she won't have to look at the reflection beneath.

Camargo is in a similar fix -- he's an old flirt, vain about his looks -- but recent events have convinced him the hourglass is running out. Cortez gives the role a deft, mournful uncertainty, and you're drawn to him even as you wonder exactly what sort of ladykiller this man is. Montenegro, meanwhile, sputters with indignant fireworks that slowly die down; hers is an enjoyable and beautifully pitched performance.

It doesn't take a genius to see where ''The Other Side of the Street" is going, but originality isn't the point. Tasting old wine slowly is. That said, don't see the movie if you can't handle two rather sexy senior citizens threatening to meet in body and mind. This is a notion that flagrantly goes against every firm-toned tenet Hollywood preaches, and if it's as revolutionary as Bernstein gets, it stands to shock the right people: the youth audience. Lock up your grandmas, kids -- or at the very least keep them away from the binoculars.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

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