By Monica Delgado

With more than a dozen films to his credit, Arnaud Desplechin has made it clear at Cannes 2022 that his desire to make movies is going through a bad time. What he captures in Frère et soeur (Brother and sister) shows wear and tear, but also perhaps the decision not to develop what the film suggests, advances or outlines, leaving between the lines as a practical exercise for the viewer.

Brother and Sister is a film about sibling rivalry that is never exposed. The film opens with a melodramatic introduction describing the tension between the two siblings, actress Alice (Marion Cotillard) and writer Louis (Melvil Poupaud), following the death of the latter’s teenage son. Then, a few years go by, and a traffic accident that has his parents as victims (in a nondescript sequence), unites them, rekindling the tension. However, as spectators we are always left in the air since the reason for the distancing is never exposed. Still, the incestuous whiff comes through, though a repressed Desplechin sanctions it in every scene.

Due to this decorum in several scenes and the lack of cunning to concoct a series of subplots, Brother and sister stumbles from several sides, precisely because of what must have been an ambivalent relationship between brothers, which, on the one hand, would appear as an issue of egos between ‘artists’, and on the other, due to parental favoritism (classic tragic reason). However, the intention of giving Poupaud’s character a curse or assigning a high degree of hysteria and neurosis to Cotillard’s character gradually infuses the film with meaningless climates, in scenes glued together with glue. To such an extent that a series of flashbacks, where bursts of truth of an incestuous nature appear, lead the film towards delirium: the definition of Alice as her brother’s muse, the mention of an unwanted pregnancy and Louis’s fixation with his sister’s son because he “looks like” him. But, despite all this, of the possibilities of the darkness of this filial relationship, nothing is said in a concrete way, and rather everything overflows from the state of health of the parents (including amputations), who lie prostrate in an emergency bed.

We are far from the filmmaker of Comment je me suis disputé… (ma vie sexuelle) (1996), or the most recent Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (2015), Les Fantômes d’Ismaël (2017) or Roubaix, une lumière (2019). A situation that is a shame, not only within Desplechin’s career, but also because of the type of concessions that the festival makes when choosing films like this for its competitions.

Official Competition
Directed by: Arnaud Desplechin
Screenplay: Arnaud Desplechin, Julie Peyr
Music: Gregoire Hetzel
Photography: Irina Lubtchansky
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Melvil Poupaud, Golshifteh Farahani, Patrick Timsit, Benjamin Siksou, Max Baissette de Malglaive, Saverio Maligno, Cosmina Stratan
France, 2022, 108 min.