My Lovely Sister @ Montreal Israel Film Festival

my lovely sisterThe acting in this film really raises it above its plodding pace and script.  What is essentially a Morrocan Jewish folk film about the love and hate relationship between two sisters is not the most scintillating film on the surface, but the two female leads really draw you into a story that is hokey at times.  Maybe there was too much supernatural stuff in it for my liking, but at times it was all I could do to control my eye rolling.  I stuck with it and in the end it was worth it due to the superior acting.

After her daughter gives birth Rama (Evelin Hagoel) is host a party at her home.  She is not happy when her sister shows up. Levana (Reymond Amsalem – Lebanon, Rendition) was invited by Rama’s daughter.  Rama forces Levana to leave.  The conflict between the sisters is because Levana is married to an Arab.

Levana’s husband Ali (Norman Issa) loves her very much.  He is a fisherman.  She is sick with an undisclosed illness and tells him when she dies she wants to be buried next to her mother.  Rama will not allow it.  She is the big sister and believes her sister shamed the family.  To ensure that Levana cannot be buried in the Jewish cemetery she destroys her birth certificate.

Rama has a different relationship with her husband.  She is like a manservant to her husband; Rama even bathes Robert (Moshe Ivgy – Munich).  Robert works nights as a security guard and frequents prostitutes.  Their teenage son Kobi (Itay Turgeman) sells pornography on the sly and has his eye on a girl who disapproves of this.

Levana dies.  Her husband buries her outside the graveyard, but near her mother.  He goes to tell Rama that her sister is dead.  Levana’s ghost comes to Rama and says it won’t leave her alone until she buries her in the graveyard.

Around that time Robert starts getting marks all over his body.  Rama begins to frantically looking for the birth certificate she threw out as she believes that Robert’s marks are due to Levana.  Rama begins a vigil at Levana’s grave.  There are long conversations between the estranged sisters.  Rama won’t come home even when Robert asks her to.  You know something has got to give.

When Levana’s ghost comes back to speak to her sister the scenes are essentially quite silly, but with the quality of the acting from Hagoel and Amsalem you overlook it to find yourself submersed in the heartfelt discussions between the two.  Over the course of the discussion you find yourself changing from hating the hard Rama to pitying her.  It is quite predictable that eventually her character is going to become likable or else the story would go absolutely no where.  She does change and you are won over to her side due to the believability that Hagoel injects into the character’s transformation.  Quite an acting feat.

The film is really about the two sisters.  Even though the three male characters, Robert, Ali and Kobi do have stories, they are so underdeveloped that you don’t really care about them.

An interesting aspect of the film that I felt wasn’t gone into enough was the question of how Israeli and Middle Eastern societies deal with question of inter marriages between the cultures.  Was Levana able to be part of Ali’s family?  Was Ali’s family mad at him for marrying a Jew?  How frequently does it happen that Arab and Jews marry?  In my opinion, the filmmakers missed a huge opportunity by not really delving into the issue.

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