As a fan of Sergei Bodrov Jr Brother (Brat 1997) and Brother II (Brat II 2000), I was delighted to find a copy of the film that was supposed to be his directorial debut, Sisters (Syostry 2001). The film was made the year before the tragic death of the director in an avalanche while on location in the Caucasus. Bodrov jr’s father also directed a number of excellent Russian films including (Prisoner of the Mountains, Mongol, East/West).
While Brother I and II concentrate on the relationships between brothers, Sisters focuses, as the title suggests, on the relationship between a pair of sisters–13-year-old Sveta (Oksana Akinshina) and her spoiled eight-year-old half-sister, Dina (Katya Gorina). The film begins with the release of Sveta’s step-father, gangster Alik (Roman Ageyev) from prison. While Dina and her mother Natasha (Tatyana Kolganova) are excited at Alik’s imminent return, Sveta lives with her grandmother and seems cut out of the intimate family circle. She’s been told that she doesn’t even “have a father,” and while she doesn’t pass judgment on her mother, there’s the implication that she’s not holding out much hope that her mother will ever come to her senses about Alik. Sveta, who has a life and friends of her own, is an unusual girl. She’s practical, driven by common sense, and her career goal is to be a sniper.
Alik’s release doesn’t turn out to be quite the celebration everyone expected. His boss demands the money that Alik, a mid-level gangster, claims the police took from him, and war is declared between the two groups. Alik hides the two girls in a safe house until things settle down, but instead the girls end up on the run from the gangsters who want to hold Dina hostage until their money is returned.
The plot creates some excellent contrasts between the sisters. Dina is loved and cherished while Sveta realises that she’s unwanted and a nuisance more than anything else. Dina, who’s treated like a little princess by her parents, expects good things to come her way while Sveta anticipates the worst. Sveta and Dina are not particularly close, but as the story winds on and strong-willed Sveta continues to elude the gangsters using her wits, the two girls become closer and gradually they begin to appreciate each other.
While there are gangsters and some shoot outs in the film, the emphasis is on the thrill of the chase and the bonding between the two girls, so there is less violence than the Brothers films. There are some excellent scenes here that offer glimpses into gypsy life. Look out for Bodrov in a cameo role as a gangster in an SUV.
Oksana Akinshina also starred in the amazing 2002 Lucas Moodysson film Lilya-4-Ever, and in Sisters her talent is once again impressive. While as Sveta she didn’t seem to be 13 years old, nonetheless, she carried off the role of the cynical, unflappable teenager.