Zus & Zo

About as vigorous and intricate as a glossy romantic comedy can get without collapsing under the weight of its own merriment, "Zus & Zo" is a complicated confection in which three sisters scheme to prevent their gay brother from inheriting the seaside vacation home of their childhood.

With:
With: Sylvia Poorta, Anneke Blok, Monic Hendrickx, Jacob Derwig, Halina Reijn, Jaap Spijkers, Theu Boermans, Pieter Embrechts.

About as vigorous and intricate as a glossy romantic comedy can get without collapsing under the weight of its own merriment, “Zus & Zo” is a complicated confection in which three sisters scheme to prevent their gay brother from inheriting the seaside vacation home of their childhood. Convoluted plot aside, universally understandable feel-good nature of proceedings indicate action up and down the family tree, from fests to arthouses to cable to video.

Using Chekhov’s play about the trio of scheming siblings as a broad jumping-off point, pic sets up three very messy lives. Sometimes narrator Sonja (Monic Hendrickx) is a writer whose priapic husband, Hugo (Theu Boermans), perpetually worried about his health, is having an affair with Sonja’s sister, Wanda (Anneke Blok), an artist collecting sperm samples for an elaborately interactive exhibit. Eldest sister Michelle (Sylvia Poorta) yearns to escape her life with long-suffering husband Jan (Jaap Spijkers) and an assortment of multicultural adopted kids.

All three sisters see the answers to their prayers in the form of the spacious, spectacular seaside home of their childhood, an idyllic retreat north of Lisbon. But their convoluted machinations come screeching to a halt when their brother, Nino (Jacob Derwig), previously thought to have been involved with TV chef Felix Delicious (Pieter Embrechts), announces that he’s about to be married to the bubbly Bo (Halina Reijn) — thereby invoking a clause in their parents’ will that allows him to inherit the property.

Bulk of pic involves the various schemes hatched by the siblings against Nino, Bo and each other, culminating in a surprise wedding, a really surprising birth, and a not entirely unexpected surgical procedure.

With all these narrative balls in the air, helmer Paula van der Oest brings a whimsical vigor to her over-plotted script, tempering a madcap — if often overbearing — vibe with an ingratiating lustiness. Cast is enthusiastic if somewhat mannered, with Boermans stealing the show via a wide-eyed bundle of tics and twitches as the perpetually bewildered Hugo.

Tech credits are pro, with crisp lensing of d.p. Bert Pot (operator of the subjective camera in Robert Jan Westdijk’s distinctive 1996 thriller “Little Sister”) burnishing the overall gloss. Original Dutch title is pun on phrase “this and that” or “so-so,” as “zus” also means “sister.” Claiming “we never really found the one that does it,” shingle is currently sifting through some 400 suggested English lingo titles gathered via a write-in competish during recent Toronto fest.

Zus & Zo

The Netherlands

Production: An RCV Entertainment release (in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg) of a Filmprodukties De Luwte production. (International sales: Filmprodukties De Luwte, Amsterdam.) Produced by Jacqueline de Goeij. Executive producer, Annelies Meuleman. Written, directed by Paula van der Oest.

Crew: Camera (color), Bert Pot; editor, Sander Vos; music, Fons Merkies; production designer, Harry Ammerlaan; sound (Dolby Digital), Ben Zijlstra, Mark Glynne, Michel Schopping. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 15, 2001. Running time: 105 MIN.

With: With: Sylvia Poorta, Anneke Blok, Monic Hendrickx, Jacob Derwig, Halina Reijn, Jaap Spijkers, Theu Boermans, Pieter Embrechts.

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