Cannes 2022 – Brother and sister: Desplechin signs a virtuoso family drama [critique]

After the disappointing Tromperie, Desplechin is back in great shape with a film in which he explores family love/hate stories with a dexterity that is still just as fascinating. Marion Cotillard finds one of her finest roles there. She would make a magnificent Cannes interpretation prize.

To those who love Arnaud Desplechinthe Cannes film festival 2021 had left a bitter taste. Deception, his long-awaited meeting with Philip Roth, this project which had haunted him for more than fifteen years, had disappointed. Because one element was sorely lacking: this sense of romance that usually inhabits his cinema, this breadth in the description of human feelings, in the tormented exchanges between his characters.

We immediately understand that this lofty view, this momentum are back with Brother and sister which opens with a striking double movement, setting the characters and the situation in a few minutes. On the one hand, a funeral wake where we discover Louis (Melvil Poupaudwonderful), inconsolable over the sudden death of her son until her tears turned to rage when Alice showed up (Marion Cotillard), his sister whom he has not seen for years and who has never met his nephew. He violently orders him to leave and to swallow back his tears, which he considers to be crocodiles. On the other hand, a double accident on a small country road, of the same extreme brutality, which plunges their parents into a coma and will force this brother and this sister that nothing seemed to bring together one day to meet again, after twenty years of mutual hatred.

Brother and sister will then work to tell, through carefully orchestrated flashbacks, the reasons for this heartbreak which caused their family and loved ones to implode, forced to choose between the two camps. But without completely removing the mystery on these. As if, deep down, no explanation would ever be satisfactory for understanding this visceral feeling. Here we find ourselves on familiar ground in the Desplechian filmography. These family chronicles whose heartbreak is the driving force, as in The Lives of the Dead, Kings and Queens and A Christmas tale. But also autofiction and its collateral damage, because Louis, a poet, sprinkles his works with settling scores with his sister, a renowned actress who is questioned in interviews about the veracity of her words and the way she perceives them. And yet, Brother and sister never repeats what we have already seen in the filmmaker. In particular because, contrary to its habits, the explosive scenes are rare there or in any case diverted.

Shanna Besson

The first time Alice tells Louis that she hates him, she does so with a huge burst of laughter, as if deep down it was all just a game. Brother and sister, we smile to hide our pain, we are silent because no words can translate the violence of what we feel. And when suddenly, the word takes over like a dormant volcano awakens, the moment stuns you with brutality, like when Louis takes Joseph to task (Max Baissette de Malglaive, striking), Alice’s young son, not to to have ever defended against his mother when he keeps telling her that he loves her. And this logorrhea of ​​a totally disproportionate violence in front of this child expresses all that he will never dare to say to his mother, all that has been eating away at him for years, all that prevents him from reaching out a hand. Perhaps out of pride. By refusing to lose in this dangerous game no doubt.


The whole film is built up to this meeting between Louis and Alice which, when it occurs, although they have taken great care never to meet at their parents’ bedside, takes place in the most trivial context possible. By chance, in a supermarket, where, symbolically, their two heads are going to bump. But, to get there, what a journey! How many scenes that haunt you long after leaving the room. A son who blames his parents for choosing his sister over him. Or even the best friend of this brother, a shrink (Patrick Timsit, poignant), who sees this sister arrive in his office with whom he is madly in love in secret and who, when she has just come to be prescribed medication to be able to continue to play his play, try to make him tell his torments, to weave a bond which he knows full well cannot exist.

Shanna Besson


Desplechin loves each of his characters without exception. And their flamboyance comes from the way he looks at them and passes on to us. Obviously, we find in Brother and sister the elegance of its staging, the power and depth of the dialogues and situations imagined with its co-screenwriter Julie Peyr. But what is striking is the way in which, as rarely, Arnaud Desplechin strives to transcend this cerebral nature which intrinsically constitutes his cinema, to go more frontally into the field of emotion, to let it settle when it arises and to allow the spectator to seize it. A gesture that would ring false without the other central pillar of his work. His love for actors that translates into action. First by the mix of families he brings together and which naturally form one in front of his camera. As symbolized by the playing of a Patrick Timsit – a priori far from his universe – from whom he does not ask for a composition à la Tchao Pantin but to simply go deeper into this humanity that we have already seen at work in him in Marie Francine Where I’ll go wherever you will go.

Desplechin knows how to watch his actors like few of his colleagues. And when he takes them away from their usual playground, he does so without it seeming like a performance. Marion Cotillard finds him for the third time after How I quarreled… (my sex life) and Ishmael’s Ghosts. And this new page written together turns out to be both the most delicate and the most sumptuous. The one who has not yet lacked strong characters finds here one of the most beautiful scores of her career where the power of her explosiveness is permanently contained and is expressed more in bursts of laughter or wild looks. lost only in impetuous explosions. Rediscovering an actress you thought you knew by heart is also the magic of Desplechin.

Siblingby Arnaud Desplechin, with Marion Cotillard, Melvil Poupaud, Patrick Timsit… Currently in theaters

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