Brother and Sister seems more like a retread (and a retreat) than anything that’s come prior, marking a new step forward for the lauded director by taking a disappointing step back.
Stream Brother and Sister
What are people saying?
What are critics saying?
Brother and Sister holds the line of his recent strong, if under-distributed work, but still doesn’t get within inches of his dazzling 90s-00s run. Yet it also gains credence and relevance as an epilogue (or mature re-consideration) of his past themes, a reminder of how few filmmakers contain his sensitivity, originality, and literary gifts.
More impressionistic and less definite than a diagnostic, our understanding of why the two protagonists behave the way they do builds up cumulatively rather than didactically. It generously makes space for the entirety of their lives and histories and allows for the possibility of change.
Alice and Louis are such artificial, wanly self-absorbed characters, forever speaking in finely turned, therapy-honed aphorisms that never sound anything other than screen-written, that it’s hard even to invest in their conflict at an abstract level.
Desplechin has a gift for examining grief and pain but often leavens the dismay with humour or irony. It is impossible to predict whether catharsis is within reach and that delicate balance is what keeps the proceedings compelling.
As overflowing as it is with subplots and stylistic quirks, perhaps “Brother and Sister” should simply have concentrated on the brother and sister. That would have been more than enough.
This is exasperatingly nonsensical and humourless: it is full of grand gestures, gigantically self-important acting, big scenes (though often bafflingly truncated), big emotions and smirkingly knowing dialogue. Yet I admit there is technique and gusto to the way it is put together.
There isn’t a predictable moment, and Cotillard (who last worked with Desplechin on Ismael’s Ghosts) and Poupaud (who played a far more even-keeled Vuillard in A Christmas Tale) inhabit their roles with bracing fearlessness.