Tag Archives: sisters

Sisters (2001)

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Russian

The Gay Sisters (1942)

“Let that be a lesson to you not to go driving around the county deceiving strange men.”

After the death of his wife on the Lusitania, wealthy New-Yorker Penn Sutherland Gaylord (Donald Woods) decides to ‘do’ something and goes off to fight and subsequently die on the fields of France. This leaves his three small children, Fiona, Evelyn, and Susanna orphaned. Before Gaylord leaves to fight in WWI, he imagines that he’s taking care of his children’s future by leaving an iron-cast will which includes a vast fortune and the splendid Gaylord mansion to his three daughters. Early scenes show Gaylord with his eldest daughter, Fiona–a proud, imperious child who hides her emotions in front of the servants.

The film then flashes forward. The Gay sisters (as they are now known) are all adult. Fiona (Barbara Stanwyck) and Susie (Nancy Coleman) still live in the Gaylord mansion while Evelyn (Geraldine Fitizgerald) is married and living in England. The Gaylord estate has been tied up in litigation for years, and has gradually been bled dry with multiple versions of the will, various lawsuits and a series of  lawyers. Think Jarndyce vs Jarndyce in Bleak House and you get the picture. Fiona–the oldest girl and the backbone of the family is the tough one of the bunch–the most vocal and the one who’ll fight to the death to keep the mansion.

The Gaylord mansion is, apparently, in the crosshairs of Charles Barclay (George Brent), one of the will’s contestants. He wants to demolish the Gaylord house and build some monstrosity (according to Fiona) to be known as Barclay Square. It looks as though the litigation will continue when sister Susie who’s in love with artist Gig Young (played by Byron Barr before he changed his name to Gig Young) secretly goes to Barclay on a mission to persuade him to drop the suit. Her action causes a chain of events to take place….

The Gay Sisters, directed by Irving Rapper, certainly has the feel of a novel, so it should come as no surprise that it’s based on a book written by Stephen Longstreet. While the film isn’t bad (I actually rather enjoyed it), it never quite reaches the heights it strains to touch. It’s not quite soap opera, not quite drama and not quite romance, and yet at the same time, I suspect that the novel was a grand mixture of these elements. As it is, the film develops some intriguing asides but then wraps them up all too implausibly as the plot dashes to the final scenes.

The sisters are a mixed bunch with Evelyn (back on a visit) the bitchy pretentious one who sports a monocle, and Susie is the most human of the litter. That leaves Fiona played with Stanwyck’s usual backbone. It’s difficult to feel much sympathy for the sisters who collectively moan about how poor they are, and yet none of them work and there’s more than one fur coat flapping in the breeze. At one point, Fiona mentions she inherited a cool $100,000 dollars from an aunt–quite a fortune in those days. It might as well be $100 from the way it’s mentioned almost as an aside–while today, sixty years later, $100,000 is still a large amount of money to the average working stiff. But that’s just the money issue; when it comes to character, Evelyn is nasty, and the way Fiona used Charles isn’t exactly charming either. That leaves Susie, but there’s dirt in her past too. Perhaps the novel managed to be a grand tear-jerker, but somehow that’s lost in the film version. That said, the sympathy that does come to the sisters comes courtesy of understanding the burden of responsibility of having a great house, and a great name and two dead parents. The weight of this burden taints all three sisters in different ways, but the film makes the point that they certainly haven’t had a normal life (whatever that is).

If you’re a Stanwyck fan, you won’t be able to resist watching the film just to see her in this role.

Quotes:

“We’re all little people trying to find and grab what happiness we can . We fight back and love each other, work a while and die still little people. But once in a while one of us has a chance to do something . Life hands it to us on a platter.” (Gig Young to Evelyn)

“Love is something you cut out of yourself or it moves in and cuts you apart.” (Fiona to Susie)

 

Leave a comment

Filed under American, Barbara Stanwyck

Paid in Full (1950)

“You can build a career on being beautiful but not a marriage.”

If I watch a tearjerker, then I want a film that gives enough unabashed, glorious lurid melodrama that we can wallow in it. Douglas Sirk was the master at this sort of thing. Take Written on the Wind for example–an alcoholic playboy marries the woman who’s secretly loved by his best friend, and the best friend is the quarry of the playboy’s nympho sister. See what I mean? Tacky, tawdry, lurid and proud of it.

paid in fullGet out your hankies for the 1950 melodrama Paid in Full which stars the marvellous Lizabeth Scott. Paid in Full is, strangely enough, based on the true story of two sisters: Jane Langley (Lizabeth Scott) and her younger sister, Nancy (Diana Lynn). The original story appeared in the May 1946 edition of The Reader’s Digest and was written by the doctor who attended both women. When the film begins, Jane is a career girl who works closely with Bill Prentice (Bob Cummins), and Nancy is a floor model, modelling expensive gowns she can’t afford. Nancy is despised by her co-workers who nickname her “the Duchess” for her airs and graces and the fact that she thinks she’s better than everyone else.

While Jane is obviously in love with Bill, he’s in love with spoiled nasty Nancy. The two sisters are contrasts in personalities. Jane is saintly, sweet, loyal and self-sacrificing and Nancy is selfish, materialistic, bitchy and immature. Since Jane raised Nancy after the death of their parents, Jane is more of a mother figure to Nancy than a sister, and unfortunately, when it comes to Nancy, Jane overcompensates for the lack of parents. The result is total indulgence. The two sisters have an unwritten creed: What Nancy wants, Jane gets for her.

Bill is so oblivious to Jane’s feelings for him that he discusses his relationship with Nancy, and even shows her the ring he plans to present to Nancy. Meanwhile, Nancy, who finds Bill dull and boring, has her eyes on a relationship with a millionaire. After being dumped by her wealthy beau, Nancy turns to Bill’s proposal with relief. While Jane (who according to Nancy has read too many “marriage manuals’) waxes on ecstatically about the glories and sacrifices of marriage, it’s clear that to Nancy marriage is a relationship in which she can be spoiled, ‘made happy by her husband’, and when she can finally buy all those dresses she’s modelled for other people. Already things don’t look good for the Prentice marriage.

Jane stays in the wings as bitchy Nancy uses and abuses Bill, but he takes whatever she dishes out, until she demands a divorce. The best scene in the film occurs with Nancy sitting in front of her dressing table while Bill finally tells her what an abominable excuse for a woman she is.

But these are the melodramatic moments of Paid in Full. There are also the tearjerker points with the theme of motherhood as a redemptive state.

Lizabeth Scott glows in the role of Jane. When she looks at Bill, her entire face illuminates with love, but he’s such an idiot, he doesn’t recognise her feelings. Actually I think he does sense Jane’s adoration, but he chooses to ignore Jane’s feelings because part of him wants to be a doormat. Bill wants a woman he can put on a pedestal and worship–or at least he thinks he does. Several excellent scenes show just how Nancy plays Bill, and these scenes show their relationship at its best and at its bitter worst.

Bitchy nasty Nancy is played well, and I particularly loved the scenes of her modelling job and then her former employer’s revenge.

The film’s biggest problem is the insertion of male authority figures: Dr Winston (Stanley Ridges), a lawyer friend of Bill’s and a psychiatrist who appears towards the end of the film. While the two male doctors deliver sanctimonious lectures to the females in the film, the lawyer friend of Bill’s tells Bill that Nancy is seeking a divorce. What happened to confidentiality? These male authority figures dampen the melodrama and move the film away from its tawdry lurid depths. I prefer more drama and less lectures. Plus then there’s poor Bill–a man who’s used as a sperm donor by these two women while they play ping-pong with his heart. If Bill were in his right mind, he’s wish he’d never set eyes on these sisters in the first place.

For fans of Lizabeth Scott, Paid in Full is a must-see. While Scott’s best role (for me) is Too Late For Tears, she does an excellent job as Jane and the role as it is written. Personally, I would have loved to see the film with both sisters as evil, scheming bitches.

From director William Dieterle

3 Comments

Filed under Drama, Lizabeth Scott

Love Serenade (1996)

“Would you like to come in and ease my loneliness?”

Set in the tiny backwater Australian town of Sunray, the marvellous film Love Serenade, from writer/director Shirley Barrett is the story of what happens when a single man moves next door to two strange sisters.

love serenadeThe film begins with middle-aged has-been DJ Ken Sherry (George Shevtsov) driving to Sunray while he listens to (and mouths) the seductive songs of Barry White. Sherry’s career has definitely taken a turn for the worst. He used to work in Brisbane and apparently had a short stint on television, but now on his third divorce, Sherry is taking over Sunray’s one room shack of a dilapidated radio station. Both Sherry and his car have seen better days, but his name is big enough to excite hairdresser Vicki-Ann (Rebecca Firth) when she notices a strange car with Sherry’s custom plates sitting in the driveway next door.

Vicki-Ann, who lives with her bizarre sister, Dimity (Miranda Otto) wastes no time spinning fantasies about Sherry. While she warns Dimity off Sherry saying that celebrities need their privacy, she tries to strike up a  relationship with Sherry almost immediately by ferrying over various home-made dishes. Sherry, however, greets Vicki-Ann’s enthusiastic welcome into the neighbourhood with cold disdain.

Sherry begins visiting the town’s drab Chinese restaurant owned by Albert (John Alansu) a quirky character who’s  “embraced nudism.” It so happens that Dimity works here as a waitress, and while she tells Sherry that Vicki-Ann is “looking for a boyfriend,” Sherry starts paying attention to Dimity.

Love Serenade is a very quirky film. The DVD cover photo may make you think you’re about to watch a romance, but this is a highly entertaining black comedy. Sunray is a sleepy town in which everyone knows everyone else, and there’s nothing to do. In another town, Sherry would be a joke. He’s a sleazy playboy whose cheesy pick up lines show that he’s been listening to a bit too much Barry White, but to the Hurley sisters, he seems exotic. He spouts glib meaningless phrases about love delivered with a weighty tone as if he has seriously pondered philosophy, and both of the Hurley sisters fall for him for different reasons. The marriage-obsessed Vicki-Ann thinks she’s found a husband, and dowdy, awkward Dimity can’t wait to shed her virginity. Lucky for her, Sherry says that “virgins are my specialty.”

Meanwhile Albert remains stubbornly unimpressed by Sherry, his views on life and his choice of music. Sherry thinks that he’s hit the mother-lode when he moves in next door to the Hurley sisters, but what he doesn’t realize is while he imagines he’s “setting them free,” in reality he unleashes them. The relationship between the sisters seems just quirky and could even perhaps be excused by Sunray, but it becomes all to clear that there’s a pathology just under the surface. Vicki-Ann’s stories become more and more exaggerated and Dimity becomes obsessed with the aged Lothario.

The character of Sherry steals the film. Looking like some flashback from the disco days, he’s still trying to hold the line that he’s a desirable male. The film captures the weirdness of this tiny sun-baked town with its wide open landscapes and faded buildings. If you like Australian comedy, then do check out this film and Walk The Talk, another Barrett film.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia

I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single (2006)

 

“I can’t work in a hostile olfactory environment.”

In the French romantic comedy I Do: How To get Married and Stay Single (Prete Me Ta Main), 40-something Luis Costa (Alain Chabat) has a good job developing perfumes. He’s the only male in the female-dominated family. With five sisters and a domineering, pug-wielding mother, all family decisions are made by vote. Luis’s brothers-in-law endure a non-voting position in the family, and as a nervous herd, they occasionally attempt to offer suggestions (say a change in the menu), only to be slapped back down into oblivion. Luis is a love-’em-and-leave-’em type, a determined bachelor but he still has nostalgic memories for his first love who was run off by his mother. Scenes of Luis with his family hint that he doesn’t want to be swallowed by a similar type of female-dominated domesticity. At least single, he can maintain distance and autonomy.

i doHowever when Luis’s sisters and mother decide that it’s high time he married, pressure mounts as Luis is forced into dates with a steady stream of women produced by his interfering sisters. One day he has a brilliant idea. He decides to pay Emma (Charlotte Gainsbourg) the sister of his best friend to pose as his girlfriend. He plans to take this fake relationship all the way to the altar and create such an aversive experience for his female relatives that they accept his bachelorhood.

Luis’s plan backfires, and the first half of the film–although predictable in spots was a lot of fun. The film was at its best with Luis and Emma as non-compatible, and Emma’s efforts to woo and then alienate Luis’s family are hilarious. That said, once we are convinced that Luis and Emma are polar opposites, it’s really impossible to believe that these two have much in common. Any originality went down the toilet with the film’s contrived cliched and banal ending. What a pity! From director Eric Lartigau.

Leave a comment

Filed under France

Pretty Things (2001)

“Her body is a fabulous playground for sexual bullshit artists.”

pretty thingsThe French film Pretty Things (Les Jolies Choses) from director Gilles Paquet-Brenner features the talented Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) as twin sisters Lucie and Marie. In this study of identity and corruption, and the price of fame, the film begins with Lucie narrating as she describes her early days in Paris. After leaving home, she is homeless and penniless on the streets of Paris. Turning to prostitution she tunes out emotionally from her experiences while determined to break into the entertainment world.

Fast forward a few years. Lucie has a gig to sing in a club, but since she can’t sing a note, her homely sister, Marie sings in her place. The club owner is startled by “Lucie’s” appearance. He expected a Madonna-esque sex symbol and instead he gets an introverted lump with a “grunge” look. But “Lucie” knocks everyone out with the power of her voice.

Even though Lucie and Marie are identical twins, they are total opposites. With deep-seated resentments that stem back into childhood, their personalities have developed quite differently. While risk-taker Lucie will do whatever it takes to get to the top–and this includes selling her body, Marie, who’s tense, abrasive, and reclusive seems to possess principles and ideals. But when Marie assumes Lucie’s life, it appears that the two sisters are not really that dissimilar after all. And Marie finds herself falling down the rabbit hole of fame into a lifestyle of easy sex and an abundance of drugs.

In a knockout performance, Cotillard manages to convince us that these two sisters whose lives are each defined by the other’s existence, share the same drive and the same ambition; it’s just that they found alternate methods for expression and personalities that seemed to fit their outlook. But while Lucie and Marie at first appear to be total opposites, over time the film reveals that they are strikingly similar, and that perhaps Marie’s rejection of all her sister stands for is based on jealousy and envy more than real principles. This is a character-driven drama that examines the price of fame in a glamorous world in which principles are eroded by hollow sensationalism, and where talent comes second to a willingness to sell yourself for a contract. Marie discovers that she’s not as principled as she once thought, and when offered the chance to step into her sister’s shoes, she grabs it without question.

In spite of the fact that both sisters are horribly flawed human beings, they both remain sympathetic characters. Lucie became a prostitute to survive, but even while she surrendered her body, she maintained an inner core that remained intact and unassailable. Marie fails to see that she needs to keep part of herself out of the mire that surrounds her, but when she’s knocked down, she comes back fighting, and I really had to admire her toughness. If you liked the film Almost Famous, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this riveting French drama. The film is based on the book by Virginie Despentes–the author of a number of novels including the highly controversial Baise-Moi (and this title can be translated as Fuck Me although it was screened in some places as Rape Me), and some hail Despentes as a new type of feminist writer. After watching Pretty Things, I’d have to agree.

Leave a comment

Filed under France

Things I Left in Havana (1997)

 “When you emigrate, it’s best to forget your memories.”

In the film Things I Left in Havana three very different Cuban sisters, Rosa, Ludmilla, and Nena (a budding actress) arrive in Madrid at the invitation of an aunt. The sisters arrive full of hopes and dreams for a bright future. They each want a ‘nice life,’ but unfortunately, their aunt has some different ideas about what that means. The aunt now thinks she has new employees for her business, and she even begins to plot an arranged marriage. As illegal aliens who’ve outstayed their visitor visas, the three sisters have little choice but to comply with their bullying aunt’s demands.

Enter Igor–a fellow Cuban exile who has some shady business dealings and some playboy habits….

Things I Left in Havana is really a charming, poignant, and refreshing film–while there are no earth-shattering revelations here, the film does have a unique perspective on immigration. The message here is that the sisters cannot return literally or figuratively to their homeland, and this is a bittersweet reality. The film sensitively explores the sadness and sense of loss felt by immigrants who often find out that their dreams come with a high price. The film has a great soundtrack, and all the acting was superb.

Leave a comment

Filed under Spain