The Movie Waffler SXSW 2023 Review - SISTER & SISTER | The Movie Waffler

SXSW 2023 Review - SISTER & SISTER

Sister & Sister review
Two Costa Rican sisters travel to Panama in search of their father.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kattia G. Zúñiga

Starring: Ariana Chaves Gavilán, Cala Rossel Campos, Gabriela Man, Fernando Bonilla, Joshua De León, Lía Jiménez, Michelle Quiñones, Angello Morales, Mir Rodríguez

Sister & Sister poster

There's a growing desire among (mostly) younger viewers for "nice" movies. What this usually means is that they want films devoid of complicated characters, of conflict, of the very essence of drama itself. Sure, it's nice to watch a movie where everyone is happy and nobody has any real troubles, but there has to be some form of conflict to drive the narrative. Writer/director Kattia G. Zúñiga's feature debut Sister & Sister falls squarely into the "nicecore" camp. It's barely interested in conflict and drama, and its characters are far from complex. Everyone in the movie seems to be having a fun time, but it's not much fun for the audience.

Sister & Sister review

It has an intriguing if ultimately squandered setup. Two Costa-Rican sisters – 17-year-old Marina (Cala Rossel Campos) and 14-year-old Luna (Ariana Chaves Gavilán) – travel to Panama in the hopes of tracking down their estranged father, whom they haven't seen in many years. The fair-haired Marina and the darker Luna don't look much alike, something the former brings up, prompting the unanswered question of whether they should indeed be looking for two separate fathers.

In Panama they stay with a friend of their mother's. The only lead they have on their father is a phone number. Calls are made, messages are left, but days pass with no reply. Meanwhile, Marina and Luna immerse themselves in the local teen culture, focussed around a skateboard school led by Choma (Fernando Bonilla), who appears to be in his twenties but flirts and seduces teenage girls, including Marina. Luna appears to have a crush on Choma, but keeps it to herself. Maybe things are more relaxed in Central America, but I can't imagine viewers in the English speaking world will view Choma as anything but a creepy predator.

Sister & Sister review

With its cast of skinny teens in baggy jeans, all schlepping skateboards around wherever they go, the movie recalls one of Larry Clark's dark explorations of teen life, but tonally it couldn't be more different. The kids here are a thoroughly pleasant bunch, and never get themselves in any kind of trouble. While Clark's films came off as little more than edgy 1990s descendants of 1970s after-school specials, presenting a wildly pessimistic view of youth, at least they had some sort of dramatic hook for the viewer to hang onto. Sister & Sister just plonks us in the middle of a group of very nice kids and hopes we'll be happy to hang out with them. That would be fine, but like most real life teenagers, they're just not very interesting unless you're part of their group.

Sister & Sister review

It's a shame because there are occasional glimpses of the involving drama this might have been, particularly a game of "Never have I ever" in which the jealous Luna attempts to cruelly embarrass her older sister. Were it not for some stunning backdrops, against which the characters are often nicely framed by Zúñiga and cinematographer Alejo Crisóstomo in a manner that feels inspired by the old Streetfighter arcade game, Sister & Sister would be a tougher proposition for viewers seeking something to latch onto.

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