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Review: Sisters


- At Visions du Réel, Peter Entell has presented the world premiere of an intimate portrait of three women who share an extraordinary strength, born of the very bowels of the earth

Three years after his Like Dew in the Sun [+see also:
film review
film profile
Peter Entell is back at Visions du Réel (in the new Burning Lights section, dedicated to experiments with new film languages) with Sisters [+see also:
film profile
, a film whose topic is as simple as it is profound: that of the relationship between sisters.

The starting point and cornerstone of his investigations are three women (Shelly, Sian and Linda), who instinctively, and thanks to a series of fortunate happenstances, recognised each other as sisters: sisters of the heart, of the blood and of life itself. Right from the get-go, Sisters scatters an array of small unknowns in its wake, which pique our curiosity. Why does the film open with images of a cheerful birthday party that has a decidedly eighties vibe to it? Who are the people we see there? But above all, who is the birthday girl who immediately grabs our attention? Instead of guiding us, the director’s voiceover seems to take pleasure in amplifying an initial enigma that is up to us viewers-cum-detectives to resolve.

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What is certain is that from that initial moment when the birthday girl, Shelly, appears on screen, everything changes: the mood lightens and the curtain rises on a rather glum clown whom we would love to get a closer look at. Throwing in an extra dose of mystery, Entell suggests, from behind the camera, that actually it might have been better to begin the story with the first encounter between Shelly and Linda (which took place in 2011).

But of course, this is not the way in which the director plans to construct his tale, which instead of unfolding in linear fashion, plays out more like a story peppered with junctions – junctions or choices (either made or endured) that define the life journey of the three sisters of the heart whom Entell has decided to shine a light on.

From the cosiness of the initial birthday party, the film leads us even further back into the past, until we arrive at the tiny Swiss village where Shelly and Sian met one another and spent their childhood. But why does everyone (or at least the characters whom the director decides to show us) in this bucolic, alpine hamlet seem to have a perfect grasp of spoken English? What link is there between Australia, ever present in the story, and Switzerland, the keeper of memories of a golden childhood? The further the film advances, the more intense the mysterious little shadows looming over Shelly’s character become. Shadows that, instead of heralding a storm, seem to shelter her from the blinding sun. Sian and Linda, the guardians of a private world – of which not even they know all the secrets – take it upon themselves to brighten up these dark corners, where Shelly’s words never venture. With respect and fondness, Sian and Linda, just like the director, take care of this enigma that is Shelly’s very essence, robbed of the right to choose the course of her own life.

Beginning with the result of a series of incredible events (an adoption kept secret, a sister whose existence she had no idea of, and a wonderful, precious friendship that, in a sense, is a result of these circumstances), Peter Entell attempts to retrace the course of an extraordinary story, in reverse. What emerges is a portrait of three magnificent, complicated, angry, pugnacious and (finally) free women. Three women who are out of the ordinary and who seem to have jumped straight out of the pages of a bestseller. 

Sisters was produced by Show and Tell Films (which is also overseeing the international sales), RTS and SRG SSR.

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(Translated from Italian)

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