Brother And Sister
The Start Of Something Real To Hold On To
It seems to be December, the late 2010s. Alice Vuillard (Marion Cotillard) sends her husband Andre (Francis Leplay) inside the house of her estranged brother Louis (Melvin Poupaud) where a wake is being held for his five-year-old son while she waits outside in the cold. Despite his wife Faunia’s (Golshifteh Farahani) useless attempts to keep the peace, Louis senses his sister's cowardice and storms outside to scream at her to leave his property, that she never even saw her nephew when he was alive and that she selfish monster. Alice is saddened and horrified but the small smile she finds herself unable to hide suggests something more. She’s feeling more giddy than guilty.
Brother and Sister open with this scene and while it’s not necessarily a window into the rest of the film, it’s an example of how the film flows so beautifully despite its many moments of heartbreak. Written and directed by Arnaud Desplechin, Brother and Sister take place in Paris five years after the events of the opening scene. Alice is now a successful stage actress. Louis and Alices’ parents (Joel Cudennec and Nicolette Picheral) are severely hospitalized following a horrifying car accident on their way to see Alice perform. The father is physically scarred while the mother is rotting in a coma. Alice and Louis’s brother Fidele (Benjamin Siksou), his husband Simon (Alexandre Pavloff), and family friend Zwy (Patrick Timsit) all coordinate multiple hospital visits to make sure Alice and Louis don’t run into each other. When Alice enters the hospital and sees Louis sitting nearby she pretends to faint just so she won’t have to see him.
The exact reason for their decades-long estrangement is never fully revealed, only barely hinted at throughout the film in small details before a long conversation towards the end clarifies things though never in the words. The entire cast has a role that’s very important in service of the story but Poupaud and Cotillard are the magnets that can’t seem to detach despite their convincing chemistry of animosity. There are so many things that they are unable to say and what makes Brother and Sister so interesting is how they skirt around the words and still manage to say so much.
It's a story about why people resort to rage so they won’t have to deal with their real emotions. It always seems like the easier choice but the heartbreak never leaves. Louis finds comfort in Zwy and the scenes between them stand out because you immediately sense how well they know each other. Alice meanwhile finds it easier to confide in strangers than those in her own life. She befriends Lucia (Cosmina Stratan), a homeless young woman from Romanian who’s spent the last of her money on multiple viewings of Alice’s play. The young girl is in awe of her and Cotillard shows Alice trying but failing not to adore the admiration.
She feeds the fragile Lucia in luxury restaurants where the lighting shines over Alice while the rest of the restaurant looks darker, almost as though lights are being dimmed for Alice to take center stage as she talks about Louis. Brother and Sister end with more distance between the two but it’s a different distance than it was before. As Alice and Louis find peace in their new environments, you feel them slowly find their way back to something that while was never there to begin with may be the start of something real to hold onto.
Lodge, Guy. “'Brother and Sister' Review: Marion Cotillard Has a Severe Case of Sibling Rivalry in an Overwrought Melodrama.” Variety, Variety, 20 May 2022, https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/brother-and-sister-review-marion-cotillard-1235272846/.