Where do I begin with Arnaud Desplechin’s newest drama film, Brother and Sister, starring Marion Cotillard and Melvil Poupaud? Written by Desplechin and Julie Peyr, the story follows two estranged siblings who haven’t seen each other in years. The movie chronicles their journey from the start of their relationship to where things went wrong, through the present day, and how the tension between them nearly destroyed their family.
The movie opens up at the funeral of Louis’ (Poupaud) six-year-old son. His sister Alice (Cotillard) and her husband (Francis Leplay) show up to pay their respects, but this sends Louis into a rage. He rants on about how they never got to meet or know his son before he passed away. Cut to five years later, he has moved with his wife to a rural area, while Alice is the star of a large French theater production. She anticipates her elderly parents, Mary-Louise and Abel, for her opening night performance to show up. However, Alice discovers they have been in an accident and are at the hospital after the show. When speaking to her father, he requests that she and her brother reconcile before he dies, but she declines as neither wants to make the first move.
Louis and Alice are both at various stages of a mental breakdown. While Luis self-medicates with drugs and alcohol, Alice takes to self-harm. Being around one another instills fear, and the atmosphere always turns destructive. They go back and forth hurting each other until they have to stop for their parent’s sake, especially with the possibility of losing both parents. Expectations, envy, and hate between the siblings have poisoned everything as they would instead take out their trauma on each other and other people than heal. The mystery of why these two were estranged is far more fascinating than discovering why they are in this position. Much like the mental state of the duo, the film begins to crumble due to the editing.
It starts promisingly. The first act is sharply paced and easy to keep up with, but it immediately goes off the rails as soon as act two drops. The plot jumps from scene to scene with no indication of where in the timeline it is. Now, I don’t know if the harsh cutting style results from poor choices or is a hallmark of French cinema, but why is this drama film edited like an action movie? Maybe I’m missing something but not a method that works for a film like this.
One thing that holds true is Cotillard and the authenticity she brings to the role. She is considered Hollywood royalty and yet will always opt to elevate these independent projects. She is one of this generation’s best actresses who, with every performance, Cotillard climbs higher up the a-list. The woman is not just a movie star–Cotillard is the blueprint for those who want to learn how to juggle movie star power with talent. Regrettably, not even she is enough to save the movie from imploding.
The frenzied third act of Desplechin’s movie left my mouth agape but not out of excitement. It was shock from the mess it leaves behind when the credits of Brother and Sister begin to roll. Did Alice and Louis admit they might have had THAT type of relationship in the past? And did that get revealed in the last 10 minutes of the movie?! After years of torture and upheaval, all is forgotten and forgiven after one scene? What’s the point of the build-up just to hurry to a conclusion when so many important questions are left unanswered.