Our Little Sister

A quietly touching family drama

Our Little Sister is a wonderful example of a sentimental yet ultimately subtle delight of a film. Watching it is a bit like being in a 128 minute-long embrace, warm and imitate with undercurrents of deep emotion. There’s no real melodrama – no dramatic shouting matches, intensive confrontations or shocking revelations – it’s far more real than that. We start the film with the character being total strangers to us then end the film feeling as if we are part of the family.

15 years ago a father left his wife and three young daughters behind. Soon after his heartbroken wife left the daughters in the care of her mother and left the town. 15 years later and the three, now fully grown, receive a phone call that their father has died, leaving behind his 14-year-old daughter who nursed him until the end. The trio – 29 year old Sachi (Haruka Ayase), 22 year old Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and 19 year old Chika (Kaho) – travel to his funeral and to meet their little sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose). The girls make an offer to the now orphaned Suzu, that she could come and live with the three of them in their big house in Kamakura. 

What is so effective about this film as it doesn’t require a big overarching plot – there’s no big problem or issue to solve. Instead we watch the three women over a period of about a year as they bond and face different issues within their own personal lives. Days blend into weeks with only a few references to dictate how much time has passed – at one point the three tell their little sister that in six months they’ll be able to undertake the family tradition of making plum wine, later in the film they do so etc. This alone with the absence of a melodramatic narrative instead presents a more realistic portrayal of family life by choosing to instead use what is essentially a series of interconnected vignettes. Each of the girls faces different issues in their lives, typically resulting around love or work, some are returned to and resolved and others are not as they do not need to be.

The film plays a magical spell as you watch it, drawing you into the lives of four young women who are each dealing with the grief of a departed parent in different ways. All four girls are fully sketched out and wonderfully characterised by both positive and negative traits, each as charming at the movie itself. How the story is shown is as extraordinary as it is told, finding beauty in even the smallest of moments – such as the way a plum floats in a jar of plum wine – and within the landscape itself – with the ‘tunnel’ of cherry blossoms being a personal favourite.

Few family-based dramas whisper instead of shout. This is one of them. A film that is quietly powerful and immensely appealing.

4 stars

Victoria

A true feat of film-making. Truly extraordinary.

To put it simply, a ‘take’ refers to the period between a director saying ‘action’ and ‘cut’. It’s up to them or the cinematographer how long this period is. Typically the longer the take the more difficult the film-making process is as it requires actors to be in the right place, saying the right lines, nothing else interrupting the shot etc. Alfred Hitchcock experimented with this in 1948 making Rope which clocked in at 80 minutes and comprised of only 10 takes, the majority of which were shot in such a way to make the cuts seem seamless. It was an ambitious project which paid of in most regards, the murder and the main characters fear of being caught out in only heightened by the prolonged takes. The character cannot escape and neither can the audience. 68 years later we have Victoria which was filmed two years ago and rejected by many of Europe’s film festivals as they believed the filmmakers were lying on the submission sheet. What lie did they think the filmmakers were proclaiming? Well the film-makers claimed that Victoria, which is 2 hours and 18 minutes long, was shoot using only one take. The most unbelievable thing about this? It’s the truth.

Victoria (Laia Costa) moved from her hometown of Madrid to Berlin three months ago. She works in a coffee shop for less than minimum wage and doesn’t really know anyone in her new city. In the hours before her early morning shift she decides to go clubbing and dances alone quite happily. On her way out of the club she bumps into a group of four men – informal group leader Sonne (Frederick Lau) who Victoria feels an instant spark with, Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuß (Max Mauff) – who promise to show her ‘real Berlin’. Victoria agrees and what first follows is a fun night for Victoria, seeing parts of Berlin she had never seen before and connecting quickly with Sonne. When Boxer receives a phone call and claims that the group need Victoria’s help.  It is her connection with Sonne that prompts her to make the first in a series of bad decisions and things take a dark turn before spiralling out of control.

I repeat. The entire film is only one take long. It cannot be overemphasised how incredible this is, what a triumph of filmmaking it is and what an astounding experience of film-watching it creates as a result. It’s breath-taking, wondrous, exhilarating and utterly compelling. As it is shot though one-take it is shot in real-time. This is important to note as it adds to the authenticity, we watched events play out and escalate. We cannot question how we got from the first frame to the last as we witnessed very moment and decision which lead the characters there. And these moments don’t just take place in one room – the characters travel all over the city, up ladders, jammed into cars and lifts, dancing across the street and running across it too – and the camera is always there watching and following. Incredibly this also manages to feel gimmick-free. Instead we feel like we’ve tagged along for a night out, been immersed in the spontaneity and intensity of this world, then kicked out of the club  and ditched at the end of the film. There is a reason that the cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen receives first credit ahead of director and writer Sebastian Schipper as Victoria is an example of true technical mastery. The camerawork is dazzling ambitious, pulsating and gripping.

The performances are mostly improvised, which only adds to the feeling of authenticity and believability. This is next level realism as we get to experience this world as it happens. It’s a huge credit to the relatively inexperienced cast that they only had to shoot the film three times, this being version two. It’s only after seeing the film, when you see what they had to achieve and endure, that you can truly appreciate the level of skill being utilised here.

It’s divine. A sensational watch. It needs to be seen.