Review: ‘Sisters’

Popular young Russian thesp Sergei Bodrov Jr. exhibits a strong, commercial-edged voice in his directing bow, "Sisters."

Popular young Russian thesp Sergei Bodrov Jr. exhibits a strong, commercial-edged voice in his directing bow, “Sisters.” The film was co-scripted with his director-father Sergei Bodrov Sr., who introduced him to the world as a young Russian soldier in the Oscar-nominated “Prisoner of the Mountains,” but it has less to do with pere’s art cinema than the street-smart, new Russian world of “The Brother,” the gun-toting hit that made Junior a star. To “Brother’s” savvy macho appeal, “Sisters” adds a nice dose of tenderness in the adventurous yarn of two young girls on the run from the mob. Story resembles a dark “Spy Kids” in reverse (here it’s the kids who are in danger and their gangland father who wants to rescue them), though with much tougher young thesps and a bittersweet ending. Its bright actors, interesting faces, and fast pace should make it a crowdpleaser at festivals and give it access to much the same territories as “Brother.”

Teenage Sveta (Oksana Akinishina) dislikes her young half-sister Dina (Katia Gorina), whose rich and handsome father is in prison for criminal activities. The day he gets out of jail, the mob comes down on him for an unpaid debt. He escapes the first round of shoot-outs and locks Dina in a safe house, with Sveta to look after her. Since Dina is his only daughter, the mob is out to take her hostage. In a frighteningly real scene, three killers break down the door, but Sveta’s quick thinking outwits them.

The two girls tussle a bit, but the danger they’re in draws them together. Cynical, resourceful Sveta, who has grown up with poor relatives, leads them from one end of town to the other, searching for food and a place to sleep. Conveniently, she has been learning to fire a rifle so she can enlist in the Russian army and fight in Cecenia.

Slowly, Dina is forced to come to terms with the fact that her beloved father is a criminal. Without emphasis, film touches on other brutal facts of modern life, like people’s terror of the mafia (relatives refuse to take the girls in), the proliferation of gypsies (who do take them in), police corruption (though one cop gives his life trying to save them), discrimination against Jews (Sveta’s b.f. says he wants to move to Germany, because they treat Jews well!). These touches give the film more depth than the predictable main story would suggest.

As the older sister, Akinishina distinguishes herself with a cool, realistic perf, while Gorina, looking like a beautiful dark-haired doll, is unsettlingly precocious at times. Bodrov Jr. (who cameos as a nice young gangster) has a talent for casting arresting faces, and there is not an ugly mug in the movie. Cinematographer Valery Martinov, going for a popular look with little shadow and lots of close shots, acquits himself well in several exciting action scenes, seconded by Natalia Kucherenko’s fast-paced editing and the hard, hip musical beat of dead rock idol Viktor Tsoi (Sveta’s fave) and Gleb and Vadim Samoilov.

Sisters

Russia

Production

A CTB Film Co. production. (International sales: Intercinema Art Agency, Moscow.) Produced by Sergei Selyanov. Directed by Sergei Bodrov Jr. Screenplay, Bodrov Jr., Gulshad Omarova, Sergei Bodrov Sr.

Crew

Camera (color), Valery Martinov; editor, Natalia Kucherenko; music, Viktor Tsoi, Gleb and Vadim Samoilov; production designer, Vladimir Kartashov; costume designer, Natalia Zamakhina; sound, Maxim Belovolov. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing, Cinema of the Present), Sept. 6, 2001. (Also in Toronto Film Festival – Contemporary World Cinema; Vancouver Film Festival.) Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Sveta - Oksana Akinishina
Dina - Katia Gorina
With: Sergei Bodrov Jr., Andrei Krasko, Alexander Bashirov, Roman Ageev, Tatiana Kolganova, Kiril Pirogov.
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