À ma soeur! (2001)
Directed by Catherine Breillat

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Anaïs Pingot (Anaïs Reboux), an obese twelve year old girl, and her slightly older, much slimmer sister, Elena (Roxane Mesquida), are on vacation with their parents when the latter meets an Italian university student, Fernando (Libero De Rienzo), and initiates a relationship with him.

Catherine Breillat's À ma soeur! is an often moving and invariably captivating film. While the viewer may be baffled by the conclusion of the story the director tells, it is unlikely that he will forget it.

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For most of its duration, the movie relates a skilfully crafted, pleasantly understated tale. The director reveals the simple worries and intense passions so many teenagers have. She allows the viewer to see Anaïs's jealousy of her sister and her discomfort with always being a third wheel, as well as Elena's gullible naïveté and her vibrant, innocent sexuality. The older girl is thus shown to believe Fernando's obvious lies and to simultaneously yearn for and be afraid of sexual experiences. The two young women are consistently fascinating to watch and each is sure to touch the viewer

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The story revolving around these sisters is, in fact, packed with a variety of simple and enthralling occurrences. It includes, for instance, numerous depictions of their rivalries and repeatedly shows how the two often spar with one another as they wander about the resort where they are staying. Thus, at different points in the narrative, Anaïs accuses her sibling of being loose, Elena demeans Anaïs for being fat, and each tries to emphasize her own unique individuality, her difference from her sibling. Among the sequences revealing these youthful antagonisms, the director has, however, included scenes dealing with their other activities, such as that presenting the girls' meeting with Fernando at a cafe, where Elena quickly begins kissing him while Anaïs sits watching the pair and eating a banana split, that in which Anaïs lies in bed pretending to be asleep while Elena and Fernando have sex, and that exposing how the girls, whatever their differences, are able to giggle and laugh together.

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What is more, both Anaïs Reboux and Roxane Mesquida acquit themselves well and bring a poignant sense of veracity to their characters so that the viewer is readily engaged in the lives of these persons. I really cannot congratulate the two young performers sufficiently for their work. They are actually able to bring to life two wonderfully flawed individuals and rarely give in to the excessive histrionics that are often mistaken for good acting.

As much as I enjoyed the majority of the film, I must, nonetheless, concede that I am not sure what to make of its final few moments. Although the concluding sequence is preceded by several scenes dominated by an increasing sense of menace, it is, at once, inconsistent in tone with the central portions of the narrative and wildly extreme. Depending upon whether he sees the events presented in these last minutes as horrific or melodramatic, the viewer will either be shocked or chagrined. I am, sadly, inclined towards the latter. It is, however, possible that Breillat was attempting to make some radical point, but, if that is the case, she has not effectively conveyed her opinions.

Whatever the excesses of its last minutes, À ma soeur! is a generally well realized and usually affecting portrayal of two young women that, while it may falter in the end, is still likely to impress the viewer.

Review by Keith Allen

Note: The UK release of this film has been censored.

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