Son frère (2003)
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In this case, the story is told in segments that play around with chronological time yet achieve an overall effect of linearity. Central to the film are scenes in the hospital that capture as no other film I have seen the stark and compressed place where life and death coexist. Normally that suggests soap opera bathos, as in such TV dramas as ER or General Hospital. But here is only an overwhelming display of truly remarkable clinical minutiae, against which an inner drama between the characters is allowed to play out either in silence or in visual takes showing the characters reacting to an unfolding revelation of who they really are and how they relate to each other. The director achieves his goal through understatement, with few exceptions. Quintessentially French.
Even the love scenes, such as they are, have a clinical feel to them. If I have one negative comment, it is that the film lacks any contrasting relief from its lugubrious tone, no touch of irony or brief bit of self-effacement. Small wonder some viewers may find it flat or uninspiring.
Yet the tacit theme of finding new ways of looking at oneself through suffering and change stands out. The two brothers are seen to rekindle a relationship that had been lost or misplaced, even as death approaches inexorably. I would not mind sitting through it again to examine more closely some of its subtleties hiding behind the sledgehammer reality of hospital life.
When Thomas calls Luc on his cell phone to tell him that he is suffering from a potentially fatal blood disorder, Luc goes to the hospital to be with him, cutting off his relationship with his lover Vincent (Sylvain Jacques). Luc, at first resentful, tells his brother that the only reason he is there is because he was asked and his feelings of betrayal are evident. Neither their father (Fred Ulysse) nor their mother (Antoinette Moya) offer any comfort, only exacerbating the situation by telling Luc that they wish it would have been him instead of Thomas. Thomas' girlfriend Claire (Nathalie Boutefeu) is also of little help, feeling powerless to offer Thomas much assistance.
Thomas' platelet count continues to drop and, as the possibility of a fatal hemorrhage increases, the doctors decide to remove his spleen but it does not produce the desired result. The film shifts between scenes at the hospital and ones at Luc's house near the seaside, cutting backwards and forwards in time. Despite inter-titles that identify the month in which the sequence is taking place, however, the chronology is confusing. As the illness progresses and the toll of hospital corridors, waiting rooms, and invasive procedures multiply, fatigue and inevitability sets in as the brothers struggle to reawaken some of their previous intimacy.
Luc shares a touching anecdote from their childhood about how Thomas saved him from school bullies and when his brother seems ready to give up, Luc rubs his back searching for some meaningful way of connecting. When they finally proclaim their love for one another, however, the cycle of resignation and despair has already gone too far to be reversed and Luc seems to passively accept its inevitability. In one of the film's most affecting scenes, we watch the excruciatingly slow and painstaking removal of all Thomas' body hair with an electric shaver in preparation for his operation by cheery, smiling technicians.
Another moving scene, perhaps the most emotional in the entire film, is the casual meeting between Luc and a 19-year old patient (Robinson Stevenin) in the hospital hallway. The patient is distraught about the possibility of another major surgery and Luc instinctively reaches out to embrace him. On the whole, however Son Frére is not an overtly emotional experience. To its credit, it studiously avoids displays of sentiment or peak dramatic moments but its affect can be flat and distancing. We long for a breakthrough or some catharsis that will bring release from all the bleakness, but Chereau does not offer any and Son Frére leaves us only with a feeling of sadness and a sober reflection on any damaged relationships of our own.
A meditation-film. Beach, sea and a hospital. Blood-sick and an ambiguous form of love. Questions, illusions, slices of hate and way of survive. A strange passing and subtle exploration of relation between brothers.
Depressing images and circles of freedom. Nooks of gestures and aspects of reality like symbols of fiction. Compasion like only instrument to define the rules of strange and cold universes. And colors of sentiments essence.
The end of film marks the last words of a subtle poem. The shadow of ataraxia after a long trip, taste of peace after a terrible fight, touch of new images and possibilities after a powerful interior tempest.
Two brothers with a problematic relationship in the past, find together again when the elder one gets a dangerous disease and asks his brother to accompany him to several doctors.
So far, so good: This could have been a typical French film about relationships. This could have been a sad tragedy, watching the one brother getting ill. This could have been a good movie, after all, because the acting is really good. But, I can only repeat: This is a boring, slow, far too long picture. The script is poor, and the directing uninspired. Very disappointing.