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A Ma Soeur Review

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Forced to share a room in the family’s holiday cottage, a 12 year-old French girl listens with a mixture of envy, disgust and distress as her under-age sister is seduced by the Italian boy she met at the beach.

★★★★★

There’s nothing worse than reviewing a film with a surprise ending. Clearly you can’t give it away. Yet if the end devalues the entire enterprise, it’s hard to resist exposing its fraudulence. Catherine Breillat’s follow-up to Romance is a case in point.

The final action could be justified by resort to John Lennon’s fortune cookie line, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” But its melodramatic staging and pitiless savagery smack more of a director who has opted to exercise her reputation for the graphic to bail her out of a creative impasse.

It’s not as though this study in teenage sexuality had masterpiece potential. Indeed, it doesn’t even have much novelty value, as Breillat explored much the same territory in her debut feature, 36 Fillette. But À Ma Soeur! does have enough insight into sibling rivalry, parental preoccupation and adolescent mating to suggest Breillat was leading up to a significant sign-off.

Her sympathies clearly lie with Anaïs, a bundle of romantic idealism whose own innocence is corrupted by her sister’s noctunal fumblings. Her resentment at having to listen to Fernando’s pleadings and Elena’s hesistant rebuffs is amusingly portrayed. But even more effective is her response to Elena’s deflowering, as her silent tears are as much about her own disillusion and incomprehension as sympathy for her sister’s endurance of what seems to be a painful and humiliating act.

The talking points here should have been about the need for the lovers to indulge in anal intercourse before Elena sacrifices her virginity, or whether Fernando’s erection had to be displayed in all its anticipation. But, instead, the random occurrence at the end of a long, tense car journey renders everything else an irrelevance.

The adolescent misery is wrily captured and the depiction of juvenile sex as a battle between lust and hesitant longing is shrewd and sad. But that ending...

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