Sunday, 10 December 2006

Son Frere (2003)

Son Frere

Son Frére, nominated for a couple of European Film awards 2003, was released on DVD in 2004, but I've only just caught up with the film, and I'm reviewing it now because it's available at a bargain basement price at some of the online stores.


The film synopsis explains that this is a story of two brothers Luc and Thomas. Luc is gay and in a relationship and has not spoken to his brother Thomas, who is straight, for several years. Thomas has been diagnosed with a potentially fatal blood disorder (not AIDS, but a disease having very similar symptoms) and one day he turns up unannounced on Luc's doorstep asking for help. The film depicts the struggle of Luc to forgive his brother for his behaviour towards him in the past, whilst also wanting to support him as a sibling when things get rough and Thomas' girlfriend is struggling to cope with the situation.


In truth this broad-stroke synopsis probably contains more 'plot' than is evident in the film. Essentially this is cinema verité about illness and coming to terms with one's sense of family, albeit done in a very naturalistic way. Much of the film is 'real time' and most of it is set in a hospital. Anybody who's had to spend any amount of time in a hospital with a sick loved one will immediately identify with the scenarios depicted here, and the film's main strength is that it has managed to capture the whole ghastly experience in a way that I've never seen truthfully captured on film before. What ultimately comes across is the power politics of doctors, the generosity of nursing staff, and the mind-numbing tedium of what hospital visits are typically like.


The director, Patrice Chérau won the Best Director award at the Berlin 2003 Film Festival for this film, but for me the 'European oscar' should go to actor Bruno Todeschini whose depiction of Thomas' declining health is nothing short of breath-taking. Eric Caravaca, too, turns in a strong, sympathetic performance as the healthy, good looking brother, struggling to overcome his resentment at having his life disrupted by the brother who disowned him when he first came out. The film jumps forwards and backwards in time, between the early hospital visits, and Thomas' last few months awaiting his fate at a seaside holiday home, and is presented in French with English subtitles.


Son Frere screencap

Picture quality here is acceptable, if not stunning, which I suspect is down to the original source material rather than any inherent problem with the digital transfer to DVD. A DTS soundtrack is provided, as well as the usual Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but this is a character piece and there's little use made of the surround sound speakers.


The extra's, as is usually the case with these indie film releases, are extremely sparse, to the point of being almost non-existent. There's no commentary or 'Making of' featurette, just a single 'home video' interview with the director. The interview is, unfortunately, a rather rambling, unstructured affair that takes place in a noisy cafe with a lot of distracting background noise. The director explains his improvisational style, how he recruited real nurses as actors to give the film its authentic feel, but reveals little that couldn't be understood just from watching the film.


Son Frere is a moving, if extremely melancholy, film about the importance of family and coming to terms with loss. There is little narrative structure, and the DVD, while having no real faults, is never going to be a 'must see again' experience. That being said, at the current online price it's a bit of a bargain, and well worth viewing if you can cope with the lack of any real plot and the pretty downbeat ending. Recommended.


Son Frere screencap

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