Marco Bellocchio’s 2006 pic “Sisters” was a pleasant diversion made in collaboration with the helmer’s family and students from his Fare Cinema project. With “Sisters Never” (an unofficial translation of an ambiguous title) he retains much from the three segments from the previous film and adds three more, directly continuing the story of a young girl and the family members who look after her, while incorporating some new characters. The earlier sections are still the best, but the warmhearted, almost free-form craftsmanship on display makes for enjoyable viewing and could comfortably turn up on fest programs.
Oddly, sales agent Celluloid Dreams mistakenly lists the pic as a documentary and, contrary to the helmer’s own statement, describes it in its catalog as a “nostalgic fantasy documentary.” While Bellocchio largely casts family members and friends, and sets the pic mostly in his hometown of Bobbio, this story of Elena (Elena Bellocchio), who lives with her aging maiden great-aunts Maria Luisa (Maria Luisa Bellocchio) and Letizia (Letizia Bellocchio) while mom Sara (Donatella Finocchiaro) tries to make her way as an actress in Milan, is a work of fiction.
Uncle Giorgio (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio) has a difficult relationship with sis Sara, angered by what he sees as her shunting of responsibility. He’s trying to make a life for himself away from the family as well, but fate isn’t kind, and the pull of home — financial, emotional — acts as both a comfort and a too-comforting safety blanket. In the 2007 segment, Alba Rohrwacher appears as a high school teacher renting a room in the great-aunts’ house, while in 2008, Giorgio is back in Bobbio hiding out from creditors.
The first three segments, shot in 1999, 2004 and 2005, are spliced with occasional parallel scenes from some of Bellocchio’s classic pics, and best capture the difficult dynamics between the siblings and their occasionally frustrated desire for independence and self-realization. Viewers get a pleasing satisfaction out of watching Elena grow, but Giorgio’s run-in with thugs feels like a different movie, and Rohrwacher’s scenes are only tangentially connected to the whole. Presumably Bellocchio’s students had a role in determining how the story would develop, making “Sisters Never” into something like that parlor game in which one person starts a story and others finish it, one by one.
As an exercise for the master’s lucky pupils, the project is invaluable. Perfs are uniformly strong and transcend what could have been merely sympathetically generous impulses directed toward the helmer’s loved ones. Digital quality and sound are just about acceptable in the 1999 segment, but later episodes are largely problem-free.