Sibling Sisterhood on Screen Part 2
Sibling sisterhood is a complex affair. When push comes to shove the sister bond can generate fierce protectiveness, closest confidences and our sister – younger, older, or the middlers – can be our most formative female role model. Sisters can of course also be a bloody nightmare!
Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven and co-written by Alice Winocour, the brilliant Turkish drama MUSTANG depicts five spirited sisters fighting the physical and psychological confines of their patriarchal home. It’s beguiling and sometimes harrowing, but what shines through is the siblings’ tenderness and their unbreakable bond.
The film is released in UK cinemas on Friday 13 May by Curzon Artificial Eye. To celebrate, BEV is running a series of reflections looking at other great portrayals of sibling sisterhood on screen…
Your Sister’s Sister / Et Ta Soeur
USA 2011, Dir Lynn Shelton / France 2015, Dir Marion Vernoux
By Jonathan Wakeham (Co-founder & programmer, LOCO London Comedy Film Festival)
Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister — and its French remake, Marion Vernoux’s Et Ta Soeur, which premiered recently at LOCO — is a deceptively modest story of sisterly rivalry, deeper than its surface suggests. The outline of the plot sounds more like a French film remade in America than vice versa: Iris is in love with Jack, whose brother has recently died. To help him overcome his grief, she suggests that he stay in her family’s beach home. But when he gets there he finds her sister Hannah, and the two of them get drunk and sleep together, only for Iris to arrive the next day, hoping that Jack will finally fall for her.
It could be played simply as farce — and there are hints of that in both versions — but this gossamer plot is simply a structure on which Shelton and Vernoux build more complex, more slippery discussions about sisterhood. Why should the eldest have to act more responsibly, the younger more on instinct? Where does parental favouritism lie, and what triggers it? To what extent are our looks our destiny, and why is that so hard to talk about? Can we love our siblings without liking them, and what commitments does that love bring with it?
These may not be great political questions, but they are profoundly significant personal ones, and they’re questions that shape most people’s lives, so it’s hard not to feel that the low-key critical response to both versions reflects the low status still given to ‘women’s stories’ in cinema: proof, not that any more is needed, of the importance of more women’s voices not just in the films themselves but in commissioners’ and editors’ offices too.
Funny, charming, melancholic – both versions of the story are worth seeing. Vernoux’s is a little darker, drunker, more ambiguous; not so much a remake, maybe, as a sister.
A Ma Soeur! (aka Fat Girl)
France 2001, Dir Catherine Breillat
By Yuriko Okamura (Programmer, Berlin Film Society)
“No one would think we’re sisters.”
A Ma Soeur! (released under the alternative title Fat Girl in some English speaking countries) is a French film about two teenage sisters. They have contrasting looks: Elena (Roxane Mesquida) is slim and gorgeous, but Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) is rather fat and unattractive. Elena is illustrated as a confident figure, whereas Anaïs is quiet and shy. It is a film of adolescence of Elena and Anaïs, but just like other Breillat films it does not end up as a lovely film about adolescence.
One summer, Elena and Anaïs go on holiday with their parents to a seaside village. There, Elena meets Fernando, an Italian law student. Elena ends up losing her innocence to Fernando, and Anaïs has to witness it. This is not a pleasant experience for either Anaïs or the audience of the film. Surely Elena likes Fernando, but she is rather forced to do what she doesn’t really want to do. She is seduced by the sweet words of Fernando, and the way Fernando convinces and makes love with Elena is rather uncomfortable and disgusting to watch. Anaïs wants to watch what’s going on, but at the same time she doesn’t want to see her sister in pain. She watches it as she covers her face with her hand, from in between her fingers.
While the relationship between two sisters is what’s at the core of the film, sexual violence is also an important topic in the film. Both Elena and Anaïs get what they want in a way – Elena wins Fernando’s attention by doing what he wants, and Anaïs loses her virginity with somebody she doesn’t love (which is what she wanted). However both of them are illustrated rather as victims and these sexual scenes are not pleasant to watch. Neither Elena nor Anaïs gets pleasure out of it and it is always the men who get the pleasure.
A Ma Soeur! may not just be a sweet film of adolescence of two teenage sisters and what we see on the surface is cruel sexual violence that the two adolescent girls have to face. Yet, what’s illustrated along with it is the sisterhood of Elena and Anaïs, which any ordinary teenage girls could experience.