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Breaking with the visual pyrotechnics and operatic flourishes he's been associated with in the past, this devestatingly intimate drama solidifies Patrice Chereau's reputation as one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. The simple story (adapted by Chereau and Anne-Louise Trividic from Philippe Besson's novel) deals with two somewhat estranged brothers -- one gay, one straight -- who become reconciled when one of them (the straight one) contracts a rare blood disease and begins the process of dying. As the slightly smug, high-living brother brought low by death Bruno Todeschini is excellent as always. But the revelation is Eric Caravaca as the surviving brother. His fresh, unfussy performance grows in power as the situation goes from bad to worse. Catherine Ferran as the perfectly professional, but utterly unhelpful, doctor in charge is quietly frightening. Chereau regulars Sylvain Jacques and Pascale Greggory drop in for a telling turn or two, and Maurice Garrel (father of filmmaker Philippe Garrel) has a few nice scenes as an old man they meet at their beach house. But over all it's primarily a two-hander of intense intimacy. There's no music until the climax when the voice of Marianne Faithfull let's loose on the soundtrack with a song she co-wrote with Angelo Bandalamenti. And when the end credits finally roll you'll probably find yourself staggering out the door like I did. If you've ever lost someone close to you you'll feel this movie right inside your skin.
If you know Chéreau mainly by his version of Alexander Dumas' novel La Reine Margot or maybe even more famous adaptation of Hanif Kureishi's Intimacy, get ready for something very different. His brother is not history based, there are no mass scenes or attractive dissolute individuals, there are no explicate sex scenes, only delicate human story of illness demystification, complicated family relationships and about love in general. You need patience, compassion and strong stomach for this film. About two thirds of the audience left the cinema before the end. I did not even think about it. I loved it. It was unforgettable. Thomas and Luc are brothers who had lost their closeness long time ago and do not keep in touch until the older one gets strange sickness. Thomas' blood cannot coagulate, doctors are not capable to help, his girlfriend leaves him, his parents argue at his bedside and the only one who stays besides him is his younger brother. Entirely confused and unprepared, in the beginning Luc resists the need to stay with his brother. In a sad hospital surrounding he meets every day a cold doctor, dense nurses and quiet, resigned patients. With no disgust, Chéreau shows plenty of ugly scars, wrinkled skin, hairs, bruises, shiners and burdensome long lasting medical procedures that are not pleasant for sure, but do prepare for death. The sequence where Luc meets nineteen-year old Manuel is astonishing. Gay-oriented man notices Manuel's big eyes and gorgeous lips, still present traces of unusual beauty. During the spontaneous chat with this cut-like-a-piece-of-meet boy full of wounds and scars Luc feels more empathy and warmth than he feels for his own brother. An affecting scene when Manuel's and Luc's hands touch will later repeat with Thomas, when closeness they used to have in their childhood is re-established between two brothers. Retrospectively mixed events unavoidably lead to the fact they are left all alone, with no partners and parents, aware of inescapable death. The act of dying will not be shown so there will be no real cathartic discharge. The right song used at the right place provokes so appalling shudders that every future listening to the same song will surely bring them back. The bitter voice of Marianne Faithful in "Sleep" from her album "A secret life", the song so beautiful and so sad conjures the climax up. This is where the soundtrack starts and ends. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, as the song says.
When I saw this film recently on the Sundance Channel, I had no advance
knowledge of it. That is how I prefer to watch any film, but publicity --
being what it is -- usually stands in the way of any such cleanly objective
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.
I saw Son Frere recently in Montreal in the original French (no subtitles). It certainly was a "brooding" dark film that really concentrated on closeups and detail in the European tradition. For me, the changes in time and settings did not take away from the relationship theme of the two brothers and their gradual reconciliation. I thought the detailed hospital scenes were a bit long but very realistic, though sombre. Ironically, I did not find the film depressing as it gave hope that something good comes in times of crisis. I will remember the film more for the two main actors, who I think were very well cast in these roles. It was more like watching a play or "the real thing" with long moments of silence or little spoken to reflect. Not a film that may have "mass appeal" but worthwhile seeing and memorable.
French director Patrice Chereau's Son Frére is an almost unbearably
intimate story about the disconnect between two brothers that, like The
Death of Mr. Lazarescu, provides a clinical dissection of the sterility
of hospitals and their failure to confront the human dimension of
illness. Based on the Philippe Besson novel, "Son Frére," the film
centers on the relationship between two brothers, one gay, the other
straight. Luc (Eric Caravaca) is a gay man who has been estranged from
his older brother Thomas (Bruno Todeschini), a graphic artist, though
they live close to each other in Paris. Though there is little back
story, the suggestion is that their relationship was sabotaged by
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
***MILD SPOILERS*** Months ahead of its release in France, this screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Bruno Todeschini stars as an older brother who is dying of some strange platelets disease -- he's in danger of hemorrhaging to death at any time. His younger brother (Eric Caravaca), with whom he's never had much of a relationship, must take care of him--takes him to their childhood summer house in Brittany. This movie is unsparing. It's hard to watch an actor put himself through such grueling paces such as becoming dangerously gaunt, letting himself be treated as a hospital patient (injected, rolled over, shaved in near-real-time from his nipples to his scrotum), collapsing from a too-real-looking nosebleed. I was pretty shaken by this film. My tears were for the mystery of family love and brotherhood, what it means to think you haven't felt very much about somebody and then to realize that person's going to die, and he's your brother. Michel Ciment, guest programmer, spoke before the film and called it "uncompromising." It seems Patrice Chereau (QUEEN MARGOT) is headed in the direction of the completely stark and unsparing film. When I saw the younger brother's body entwined with his lover's, I was suddenly reminded that Chereau had made INTIMACY, the English-language film starring Kerry Fox that was so controversial because of her on-camera fellatio scene. What I liked about HIS BROTHER is its unsparingness. It doesn't try to console you for the facts of the story: that a man is probably going to die, and his estranged, resentful younger brother has to deal with it. The movie seems to be stripping everything down to the bones. The brothers do have a bond, but they can't find it until they exclude everything else from their lives, including the others that they assumed they loved more. There's a prolonged pre-surgery shaving scene that seems to be preparing us for the "cutting off" of the other relationships. Two nurses methodically prepare Thomas by putting paper under him and using an electric shaver on his armpits and chest. Then they apply a razor to get the uneven parts, all the time asking, "Are you all right?" as they work right down to his genital area. ("This will pull a little.") I guess some of the tension comes from wondering if they will nick him and cause another hemorrhage, but my main reaction was a kind of impatient boredom, wondering why Chereau was spending so much time on the shaving. That scene shows how clinical the movie was, and what a relief it finally is to be free of the hospital. The film does jump around, from "August" to "March" and back again, from Brittany to the hospital to Brittany, etc. It opens with the brothers sitting on a bench at the beach, listening to an old native talk about shipwrecks and death, stuff washing up. Not sure why Chereau cut up the time and locales the way he did, and I'm not sure it was effective. Maybe it was to give us temporary relief from the hospital scenes, to long to go to Brittany for good. There the two brothers are alone with their childhood memories, when they had a relationship. It's like their adulthood no longer matters. In one cathartic moment, when the younger brother Luc catches Thomas's girlfriend running away for good and impulsively kisses her, you find out that Thomas was "the first boy [Luc] ever had"--his brother masturbated him. The movie's not suggesting that that "made" him gay, but that the brothers had an intimacy they have since lost.
The other like part of yourself. Shadows of past and a fragile present.
Fear, emotions and long expectation. And the pain like moral mirror.
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.
Director Patrice Chereau, famous for many great films, made this movie.
This, of course, let me hope that I would see a good film, at least. But
no, this one is not. It is a slow film, and boring.
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.
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