Review: Brother and Sister
- CANNES 2022: Arnaud Desplechin disturbs the potent mustiness of a profound and violent sibling hatred rooted way back in the past, and seeks a way to rid the dark family closet of skeletons
On my right, we have theatre star Alice (Marion Cotillard), able to elicit tears and smiles in quick succession, without us even knowing what’s true any more, downing gins every morning and boasting a perfect knowledge of the array of tranquillisers, antidepressants and other antipsychotic drugs that she gobbles down whenever necessary, in excessive doses, while brusquely shouting at the chemist: "What do you know about me? About what I have to put up with?" On my left, we have outcast author Louis (Melvil Poupaud), always angry, scornful of half-heartedness, with a penchant for indulging in opium, dramatically mixing pride and self-loathing, and haunted by the disappearance of his child some five years ago.
Arnaud Desplechin returns with Brother and Sister [+see also:
film profile], presented in competition at the 75th Cannes Film Festival. In it, the boxing ring and cruel breeding ground of the Vuillard family (with archetype-like figures coming back again and again in different guises over the course of many of his films, including A Christmas Tale [+see also:
film profile]), steeped in a love-hate vibe, serves as the setting for the director to adopt a very familiar framework ("You get off on dead people") surrounding characters who are so deeply entrenched in their bad karma that they end up revelling in it with a view to halting their suffering and deliberately keeping the flame of hatred burning.
"I’ve got nothing in common with you; I want you to go to prison, I want you never to get out, I want you to be punished for your pride." Given that they’re unable to overlook the deeply ingrained accumulation of mutual grievances, the solution adopted by Louis and Alice has been to draw away from each other: they haven’t spoken for years, and she refuses to even cross paths with him. It should be said that when fate or necessity have brought them together during the previous decade, it has instantly triggered such dramatic pangs of spitefulness and such spectacular quarrels in very refined settings that the rest of their family and their friends now go to great pains to avoid them being together at all. But one entirely unexpected event, a terrible road accident that befalls their parents, will see them backed into a corner…
While attempting to fling open the jammed window of hatred and communication breakdown that pervades his entire virtuoso filmography, Desplechin offers some first-rate toxic roles to his two remarkable lead actors and weaves a highly controlled narrative web fuelled by flashbacks and healthy breakaways from the chamber setting where the two “enemies” (who obviously loved each other a little too much and who have been consumed by jealousy, with an indescribable whiff of incest faintly lingering over the story) spy on each other from a distance, reinforcing their reciprocal, ever-intensifying loathing. But while the film sticks perfectly to its striking, unrelenting darkness, the signs of its aspiring to a way out, towards a lighter realm, are more artificial, and all of the liberating mechanics suffer the effects of it in the end. It’s as if, for the French filmmaker, wishing to do without a map and compass, and just throw everything overboard, was simply not in his nature.
(Translated from French)
Photogallery 21/05/2022: Cannes 2022 - Brother and Sister
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