SISTER MY SISTER(director: Nancy Meckler; screenwriter: Wendy Kesselman; cinematographer: Ashley Rowe; editor: David Stiven; music: Stephen Warbeck; cast: Julie Walters (Madame Danzard), Joely Richardson (Christine), Jodhi May (Lea), Sophie Thursfeld (Isabelle Danzard); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Norma Heyman; Seventh Art Releasing; 1994-UK)
“Though the subject matter is bleak and upsetting, the narrative is intelligently told.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Nancy Meckler’s stark psychological drama is based on a true story occurring in a small unnamed French town in 1932 as a pair of repressed sisters, Christine and the younger Lea (Joely Richardson & Jodhi May), employed as maids, slowly lose their grip on reality leading to the murder of their cruel employers. Wendy Kesselman has written the screenplay. It’s a disturbing tale told in great detail that reflects on madness, lesbian incest and a bloody awful murder. The sisters, both from a convent, were hired to work in the same household and appear to be ideal maids to the obnoxious and pushy and haughty widow mistress Madame Danzard (Walters) and her oafish daughter Isabelle (Thursfeld). The older sister was hired first and when the younger finished at the convent Madame Danzard took her on also, as she got two maids for the bargain price of almost one. The sisters share the same tight attic quarters, and become more withdrawn as they engage in troubled conversations and incest. Their greedy mother shows no interest in them except to collect a good chunk of their slave wages.
The story builds slowly in suspense aiming for a big last scene, though the big moment can’t possibly equal all the powerful smaller moments in the film. All the characters in this claustrophobic setting have their psychological problems. Madame Danzard counts pieces of silverware late at night to see that none are stolen and is so obsessed with cleanliness that she dons white gloves to check for dust around the house, and when she’s not doing that she bullies her lumpish daughter around unmercifully. The maids remain secretly embraced in a lesbian relationship, as the household tensions grow in this unhealthy atmosphere. When Christine reacts jealously to Lea’s attention toward Isabelle, it leads to the final eruption of violence.
Though the subject matter is bleak and upsetting, the narrative is intelligently told. By the time the film is over we can understand how insane the sisters were and how they were capable of such violence. Nevertheless it’s still kinky in tone and pursues a stylish deviation on Jean Genet’s “The Maids.” It can be compared to “Heavenly Creatures,” which also dealt with a real-life murder case of female teenagers in a lesbian relationship.
REVIEWED ON 4/7/2004 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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