Review: ‘Sisters’

The political skeleton of 1970's Argentina rolls out of the closet to mostly positive effect in Julia Solomonoff's "Sisters." Pic should find homes in fests and in the Spanish-speaking arthouse, with U.S. play also possible.

The political skeleton of 1970’s Argentina rolls out of the closet to mostly positive effect in Julia Solomonoff’s “Sisters,” a solidly-built but somewhat airless debut from the assistant director of “The Motorcycle Diaries.” The complex plot doesn’t fully exploit the possibilities for suspense, but first-class perfs, great atmospherics and an upbeat message combine to make the pic work better as a sibling drama than as a thriller. Pic should find homes in fests and in the Spanish-speaking arthouse, with U.S. play also possible.

Exiled Argentinean journalist Natalia (Ingrid Rubio) visits her sister Elena (Valeria Bertuccelli), also exiled and now, in 1984, living in a suburban Texas town with hubby Sebastian (Adrian Navarro) and son Tomas (Milton de la Canal, terrific). One of Natalia’s aims is to find out who informed authorities eight years before of the whereabouts of her b.f., which led to his disappearance. Their academic father, David, also now dead, wrote a novel about it that Natalia suspects may contain clues, but when she reaches the final chapter, she finds it’s missing. Viewers know that this is because Elena has torn it out.

Most of the sometimes overly detailed flashbacks provide background info about the family’s life in Argentina. It’s clear the sisters are very different: Natalia is skeptical of power and wants to be a journo, while Elena has no higher ambition than to teach physical education and settle down (script is sharp on her Americanization, despite the fact that her English is terrible).

The key to the big question is found to be in the hands of Sebastian’s secret serviceman uncle Luis (Eusebio Poncela).

Plot is neatly organized, with barely a wasted scene. But so carefully is everything bolted into place that the climax is no surprise. Moreover, as the dramatic pace picks up, script finds less and less time for emotion.

Theme of forgiveness considers how past tragedy need not always screw up the future, an unusual idea in contempo Argeninean cinema. Still, the decision to deliver the big payoff through dialogue before showing it through flashback is unnecessary, and at odds with the pic’s general air of craftsmanship.

Ramiro Civita’s lensing and Marina Di Paola’s art direction combine wonderfully to make the pic an experience of contrasts, between the light, airy spaces of suburban Texas on the one hand and the darker, more chaotic ambience of Argentina under the dictatorship.

Perfs are fine, though Bertuccelli sometimes struggles to extract sympathy from the role of the tight-lipped Elena. The bright-faced Rubio successfully conveys Natalia’s perennial optimism, which pushes right through to the final frame. Technical credits are fine.

Sisters

Argentina-Spain-Brazil

Production

A Cruzdelsur Zona Audiovisual/Patagonik Film Group (Argentina)/Tornasol Films (Spain) Videofilmes (Brazil) production. (International sales: Zona Audiovisual, Buenos Aires.) Executive producers, Florencia Enghel, Vanessa Ragone, Mariela Besuievsky. Directed, written by Julia Solomonoff.

Crew

Camera (color), Ramiro Civita; editor, Rosario Suarez; music, Lucio Godoy; art director, Marina Di Paola; sound (Dolby Digital), Arturo Garcia. Reviewed at Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival (Special Screening), April 20, 2005. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Valeria Bertuccelli, Ingrid Rubio, Milton de la Canal, Adrian Navarro, Nicolas Pauls, Horacio Pena, Monica Galan, Eusebio Poncela.
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