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FNE at Venice 2018: Review: The Sisters Brothers

2018-09-03
The Sisters Brothers, dir. Jacques Audiard The Sisters Brothers, dir. Jacques Audiard

VENICE: French director Jacques Audiard arrives in the Venice competition with the French, Belgian, Romanian, Spanish coproduction The Sisters Brothersan unusual take on the Western genre. The film is based on the novel by of the same name by Canadian author Patrick deWitt with a script co-authored by Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain. It is also the first English language film by Audiard who scored critical acclaim with his previous films A Prophet, Dheepan andRust and Bone.

Audiard has put together an outstanding cast who turn in great performances under his sure hand as a director. The film features a pair of brothers with the surname Sisters who are professional assassins in the Old West.  Eli Sister is played by John C Reilly and Charlie Sister is played by Joaquin Phoenix. 

Charlie and Eli Sisters are two characters out of 1970s Westerns that the audience will immediately recognise and one feels that Audiard wanted to pay homage to the genre with this film. Eli the older brother dreams of getting out of the hired killer game and leading a normal life but his younger brother Charlie is a reckless killer who enjoys his work.  The brothers are hired by a shadowy figure called the Commodore played by Rutger Hauer to kill a foreign  prospector by the name of Hermann Kermit Warm played by Riz Ahmed.  Ahmed has a background as a chemist and he has apparently developed a formula that will show up any rocks with gold in them when poured into a river.  The brothers are mean to extract the formula from Hermann and then kill him.

But first they have to catch him. The brothers set off in pursuit on a long journey from Oregon to gold-rush San Francisco.  Hermann realises he is in danger and manages to convince John Morris a sort of sheriff turned private detective played by Jake Gyllenhaal to join him as his protection.  This is the start of a road movie that covers vast stretches of territory and explores the relationships between the two brothers along the way. It is a tribute to the film’s producers that the Spanish and Romanian locations do a first rate job of standing in for the American old West. 

Speaking about how the film came to shoot in Romania coproducer Cristian Mungiu who heads Bucharest based Mobra Films said it all started when he invited Jacques Audiard to visit Romania to participate in a film festival that Mungiu organises. Audiard agreed on the proviso that it became a working visit and the director visited possible locations for his next film project The Sisters Brothersduring the festivals.  Audiard’s production company Why Not? is the same production company that works with Mungiu’s films in France so there was already a close working relationship between the two.  After it was decided that The Sisters Brothers would be shot entirely in Europe Audiard shot most of the exterior locations in Spain and the interiors were shot on sets built in Romania. Mungiu said: “It was a very good thing that I am proud of that we managed to create this feeling that this is a film shot close to San Francisco even though it’s an entirely European production. I think that we managed to prove that there are very good professionals in Eastern Europe and in Romania and if the production designer knows what he wants it is possible to provide these kinds of services.” 

The journey of the two brothers is strewn with a lot of killing and blood and along the way we have a chance to savour their earthy conversations in what could have been scenes from a Coen Brothers film if endowed with a bit of comedy.  Meanwhile the object of the hunt Hermann and his body guard Morris engage in highly educated patter seldom seen in Western genre films.  


The hunt winds up in San Francisco and in the end pits brother against brothers with a surprising climax.  Audiard obviously is like many Europeans a fan of the Old West genre but this is a fully European film that tells its story with a decidedly European accent.

Credits: The Sisters Brothers (France, Belgium, Romania, Spain) 

Director: Jacques Audiard

Production:     

Jacques Audiard for TheSistersBrothers (France, Belgium, Romania, Spain)
Produced by Why Not Productions
Coproduced by Les Films du Fleuve, Mobra Films, Menakoz Films

Supported by Romanian CNC

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed

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