'Sisters'

A touching and tender portrait of three feisty girls coping with a fatherless childhood, "Sisters" reps an accomplished sophomore bow by Gallic helmer Eleonore Faucher.

A touching and tender portrait of three feisty girls coping with a fatherless childhood, “Sisters” reps an accomplished sophomore bow by Gallic helmer Eleonore Faucher following her 2004 debut, “A Common Thread.” Based on actress Sylvie Testud’s semi-autobiographical novel, the pic presents a bittersweet, dreamlike vision that never panders to cuteness or sentimentality as it reveals the hardships, both past and present, of being raised in a single-parent household. Reminiscent of blissful youth films by Jean Eustache and Victor Erice, “Sisters” is a very French (in a good way) piece of arthouse fare that could titillate foreign distribs.

Cutting seamlessly and evocatively between present-day and early ’80s Lyons, the action follows thirtysomething thesp Sybille (Testud) on a hometown visit, where she’s struck by remembrances of things past, most of which involve the deadbeat dad (Marc Barbe, haunting) she knew only via photos and hushed adult conversations. The narrative progressively reveals Sybille’s youthful recollections, and then shifts in its third section to a brisk denouement involving the awaited father-daughter showdown.

Flashback sequences present 10-year-old Sybille (Zoe Duthion), her bossy older sis, Corrine (Louise Herrero), and credulous young-’un Georgette (Roxane Monnier) coping with their caring but tyrannical mom (Amira Casar), who refuses to utter her missing hubby’s name. Always ready for mischief, Sybille begins sneakily uncovering pieces of the parental mystery, including a fading Polaroid that soon becomes the three gals’ greatest treasure and sole proof that their pop actually exists.

Capturing faces, objects and decors in colorful close-ups that punctuate the screen like brush strokes, Faucher and d.p. Pierre Cottereau tell the story through episodic fragments that only come to function as a whole in the latter stages. Whether depicting a fun-loving, macho Italian uncle (Jean-Pierre Martins), an awful excursion to a French summer camp or a voyage to Italy that’s both wondrous and humiliating, such details are far from nostalgic, and present Sybille’s memories as vivid, often tragic slices of real life.

Casar portrays the kids’ long-suffering immigrant mom as a kind of milder, less shopworn Anna Magnani, and gives her character a dignity that isn’t fully understood until the closing minutes. Testud easily slides into her alter ego, but does so with enough restraint to allow the tearful family reunion to never seem overbearing. As peppy prankster Sybille, Duthion is perfectly cast and shows the potential to take on roles above her age level.

Score by Laurent Petitgand loops recurring themes to accompany the syncopated montage, while pop oldies like “L’italiano” and “Perche perche” punctuate the action with fresh doses of Euro cheese.

Sisters

France

Production

A TFM Distribution release of an Ex Nihilo, Rhone-Alpes Cinema, TF1 Intl. production, in association with Cofimage 20, Banque Populaire Images 9, with participation of La Region Rhones-Alpes, CNC, Canal Plus, Cinecinema. (International sales: TF1 Intl., Paris.) Produced by Blanche Guichou, Robert Guediguian. Directed, written by Eleonore Faucher, based on the novel by Sylvie Testud.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Pierre Cottereau; editor, Joelle Van Effenterre; music, Laurent Petitgand; production designer, Valerie Valero; costume designer, Catherine Rigault; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Jacques Pibarot, Florent Lavallee; assistant director, Valerie Megard; casting, Sarah Teper, Agathe Hassenforder. Reviewed at Gaumont Opera Premier 4, Paris, Dec. 22, 2009. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Amira Casar, Sylvie Testud, Zoe Duthion, Louise Herrero, Roxane Monnier, Jean-Pierre Martins, Sophie Guillemin, Laurence Cordier, Elise Otzenberger, Lubna Azabal, Marc Barbe.
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