A Sister


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Sister
"With no need to expand beyond a lean 16 minutes, A Sister is free to focus on what it's good at. The result is a film that feels much more compelling and real."

A man and a woman in a car, at night. We see them from behind, as if we were sitting in the back seat. Something about the man's body language tells us that something isn't right. The woman (Selma Alaoui), when she speaks, sounds normal, but female viewers will reflect on all the times they've deliberately kept emotion out of their voices to avoid getting an unwanted reaction from a man. She's just going to call her sister, she says. Her young daughter is with her sister and she needs to make sure that she'll be okay.

The call is received by an emergency services operator (Veerle Baetens) who quickly figures out that she's conversing with someone who is not in a position to speak freely. What follows is a carefully framed conversation in which the operator tries to work out where the frightened woman is and arrange an intervention - all without the man catching on.

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It's not a new idea. There are shades of 2017's The Guilty and Cellular from 2004, but with no need to expand beyond a lean 16 minutes, A Sister is free to focus on what it's good at. The result is a film that feels much more compelling and real. Although both lead characters subdue their emotions for much of the film, we get a strong sense of the connection between them, and it's this brief, intense relationship, rather than the interactions between the frightened woman and the man, that powers the story. The operator is efficient, professional, but unable to keep herself from getting emotionally involved. The woman in the car is focused on survival. There is a species of sisterhood here but it incorporates that imbalance often present between real siblings. There is no room, no time, for emotional reciprocation - and yet both play their roles within a larger, unseen sisterhood of women who know what this is like.

Director Delphine Girard contrasts the open, white walled emergency call centre with the dark interior of the car, which is effectively halved in size by our limited perspective, making it still more claustrophobic. Because we can only see part of the man, and then only occasionally, it's all the easier to empathise with the woman's uncertainty about what he might do. Because we see very little of her face we are left, like the operator, wondering who she is. A Sister thrusts us into these lives, makes us invest in these people, then abruptly cuts us off, as if hanging up the phone. Afterwards you'll finding yourself hanging on, wishing you could call back.

Reviewed on: 18 Jan 2020
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A Sister packshot
A night. A car. A young woman is in danger. To escape, she must make the most important phone call of her life.

Director: Delphine Girard

Writer: Delphine Girard

Starring: Selma Alaoui, Veerle Baetens, Guillaume Duhesme

Year: 2019

Runtime: 16 minutes

Country: Belgium


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