Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Sergey Bodrov: Sisters - Сестры (2001)

Directed by Sergey Bodrov Jr..
With Oksana Akinshina, Katya Gorina, Roman Ageyev, Tatyana Kolganova

Sergei Bodrov Jr first attracted attention playing a Russian soldier in the Caucasus Kavkazskii plennik (Prisoner of the Mountains, 1996), directed by his father, Sergei Bodrov Sr. Since then, his name has become closely allied to family connetions, albeit in a rather sense. Bodrov Jr is now most famous for the role of Danila in the two Brat (Brother) films by Aleksei Balabanov. And to capitalise on that success, he has now directed his first feature, which also has a sibling-based title, Sestry (Sisters, 2001).

Sveta, 13 years old and interested in rifle shooting, is less than enamoured with her step father, Alik, and his mafia connections, and lives in poverty with her grandmother rather than have a luxurious existence on the back of ill-gotten gains. Dina, her younger half-sister who has no such moral qualms, is not viewed with the same outright hostility but the relationship is nevertheless frosty. It's only when Alik's attempts to pay off debts backfire and the half-sisters are forced to go on the run together to avoid being kidnapped that a relationship starts to blossom.

After fending admirably well for themselves, the baddies start to get the upper hand. But Alik turns up at the last minute to save the day. Fearing for his life, Alik leaves for the West, and takes his family with him. Sveta, though, is unable to leave her country or her grandmother, least of all to live with a man she still despises, and the new relationship with her step-sister is cut short.

Sestry owes a great deal to Brat more than its similar title. Both films fit firmly into the gangster genre, currently very popular in Russia, and exploit concerns about lawlessness and disorder within a plot that stresses family values and love of ones country. Watching Sestry, you get the distinct impression that if Bodrov was an American citizen he'd vote Republican.

Launching his directorial career on the back of his best-known acting performance may seem somewhat desperate. Yet Sestry is actually a rather better film than both Brat installments. Bodrov's handling of his young actors is assured, and the plot is a deft balancing act of pacing—always an essential element in a crime thriller. Moreover, Bodrov's homespun philosophy on crime and the primacy of family bonds is considerably less objectionable to Balbanov's increasing tendency to nationalism, sexism and racism in exploring the same subjects. ...

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