Son Frere

Ladymol's Review:

A film about forgiving and coming to terms with past resentments. Utterly understated, as most of the French films weíve reviewed have been, this is a beautifully acted story about two brothers, one of whom is dying.† Unusually, itís the straight brother who has a rare blood disease and who is sick, not the brother who is gay.

The brothers appear to have been estranged since the older one found about that his brother was gay, although I only surmise this, itís never really clear why they havenít seen each other for years.

When Tomas finds that heís sick, he turns to his younger brother for help and the film shows them over the period of six months, switching between the early days of his hospitalisation and the latter days when theyíve returned to the family home on the coast. The progress of Tomasís illness is made so much poignant with this device because we return to periods of remission after seeing him a few months down the line sick again.

The acting by the two lead men is nothing short of incredible. I shudder to think what Hollywood would have made of this subtle, tragic film (yes, I know, I say that about every French film!).

Itís fascinating to watch the closeness of the brothers returning. At the beginning of the film thereís no touch at all, but by the end the camera lingers on the joining of their flesh. And this is far more erotic, more sensual, than sex.

There are some brief but quite frank scenes of male/male sex, which would never have passed the American censors. Itís nice to see the level of explicitness accepted naturally between men and women in films being extended, in this one, to the men.†

Well worth watching, but not if youíre feeling blue.

Cerisaye's Review:

This film accounts what happens when a chronically sick man with a complicated blood disorder deteriorates in mind and body, giving up all hope. Thomas awaits release by the seaside home where he and younger brother Luc spent their childhood.† Against our expectations it's the straight brother who is dying, rather than his gay younger sibling.† In one horrible scene, their father rails against the disease, asking why could it not have been Luc?† It's implied that Thomas too was uncomfortable with his brother's sexuality. Luc has heard nothing from him for years until he shows up one day at his door, in great distress begging for his help.† Or maybe the fault was Lucís?† Details are sketchy but emotional impact is high in the film.††

The timeline flits from summer in Brittany, beautiful windswept beaches and rocky coastline, back to the close confines of a Paris hospital in bleak winter, where devoted care of the nursing staff contrasts with the professional detachment of doctors.† One lady doctor is quite scary, seeming to blame Thomasí attitude for his condition.† It's harder to accept imminent death in the bright light of August, a point the film makes with great effect.

Particularly intense is the shocking real time scene in which two nurses prepare Thomas for surgery by slowly shaving him from chest to groin.† Their consideration of Thomas' feelings about something so intimate gentles a traumatic experience that's disturbing but compulsive viewing. Luc stands vigil off to the side, clearly uncomfortable.† Many gay men routinely shave themselves for cosmetic purposes.† A sick man has no right to vanity, yet here he's treated humanely and with respect, dignity paramount.

The focus of the film is the brothersí rediscovery of lost closeness, freed by the circumstances of Thomasí illness to reassess their feelings.† Both Luc and Thomas are involved in relationships, yet in the end they turn to each other, to the exclusion of everyone else around them, including their parents.† Thomasís girlfriend, Claire, resents Lucís presence.† When Thomas was ill before, she took care of him without any help.† Lucís boyfriend, Vincent, wants to support him, but clearly the relationship was already in trouble. When his brother comes to see him that first time, Luc denies anyone shares his life, although Thomas sees sheets crumpled on both sides of the bed.† Luc reveals to Claire that he had his first sexual experience with Thomas, masturbating each other as boys.† He says that is how brothers should be.† We see Luc and Vincent entangled naked together, but for Luc sexual desire fades when confronted by Thomasí mortality.

It's stark and unsentimental, despite a subject that could've been mawkish and trite. The actor who plays Thomas is convincingly gaunt and fragile and both leads give beautifully understated performances.† Background music is notable for its absence, except for one melancholy song by Marianne Faithful.† Use of a real hospital with actual staff and some patients makes the film very naturalistic.† A depressing and unrelenting film, yes, but powerfully moving, unforgettable, and worth the pain.† Rent/buy it rather than Attrition.† French with English sub-titles.

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