The relationships between siblings can be some of the most complex with love and familiarity often intertwined with jealousy and resentment and a host of other emotions. This of course allows film makers to explore different aspects of such bonds.
Below is a select list of films from around the world which highlight some of these emotions, from fifties Bengali classics to modern Wes Anderson flicks.
15. The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Sofia Coppola’s debut film based on the novel of the same name centres around the five blonde, beautiful and young Lisbon sisters (Leslie Hayman, A.J Cook, Chelse Swain, Kirsten Dunst and Hanna R. Hall) from the perspective of a group of infatuated neighborhood boys (including Jonathon Tucker and Robert Schwartzman – Coppola’s cousin).
Set in the suburbs during the 1970s, it is narrated by Giovanni Ribisi who portrays the adult version of one of these boys. He acknowledges the facts and theories he and his friends have created that could possible explain the enigmatic events that surrounded these sisters, and how they had a profound influence over the rest of their lives.
Opening with the youngest 13-year-old sister attempting to kill herself, the dark tone is immediately set with the help of an original score composed by Air and the decaying setting of trees dying along with the protagonists. The girls’ overprotective and severely strict parents (James Wood, Kathleen Turner) ironically make their children more depressed by isolating them not only from boys but also from school.
Their desperation is only relieved through outlets such as communicating with their admirers through Morse code, playing songs over the telephone and throwing out notes through their windows in the hope that they would find them. However, their means of liberation from seclusion and loneliness become more dangerous as the film progresses.
14. The Dreamers (2003)
Bernardo Bertolucci’s romantic drama based on the novel “The Holy Innocents” by Gilbert Adair, who also wrote the screenplay. Set during the 1968 Paris student riots, Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American university student in Paris, meets a pair of eccentric twins, Théo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green), at a protest at the Cinémathèque Française and the three immediately bond over a shared love of film, especially since all of them are “insatiables” – those who sit closest to the screen.
Matthew temporarily moves in with them since their parents leave for a trip and he soon discovers that their free-spiritedness extends to their views on sexual liberality and experimentation. He sees them sleep nude together, and soon joins them after playing in a trivia game about film.
After Théo loses, Isabelle sentences him to masturbate to a Marlene Dietrich poster in front of them, and after Matthew loses at another game, he becomes enmeshed in their incestuous relationship. Like his “Last Tango in Paris,” transgressive sex in youth culture is at the heart of the film; with cinema, politics, riots and revolutions in the foreground.
13. Grave Of The Fireflies (1988)
Isao Takahata’s Japanese animated war drama film, animated by Studio Ghibli and based on the 1967 semi-autobiographical short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka, is a harrowing tale that follows two children orphaned after the firebombing of their village in Kobe, Japan during World War II, and their desperate struggle to survive.
Seita and his younger sister, Setsuko, are left alone with a distant aunt, who allows them to stay but soon becomes resentful and openly remarks on how they do nothing to earn the food she cooks.
The two become increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, with only each other to depend on and care for. Seita bares much of the responsibility as he tries his best to not only deal with his emotions about his parents and the sudden horrors of war, but also to keep his sister healthy, preoccupied, and distracted from the torturous ordeal.
The heavy film is simultaneously heart-warming and heart-breaking, and ironically premiered as a double feature with Hayao Miyazaki lighter “My Neighbor Totoro”.
12. Dead Ringers (1988)
David Cronenberg’s psychological thriller based on the lives of Stewart and Cyril Marcus and on Bari Wood and Jack Geasland’s novel “Twins”, follows Elliot and Beverly Mantle (both played by Jeremy Irons) who are identical twins and gynecologists who specialise in female fertility treatment.
The more confident and cynical of the two, Elliot, seduces women patients and when he eventually gets bored of them, passes them off to the shy and passive Beverly, without the women even realising that they have switched. However, soon Beverly gets a girl by himself, Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold), who realises the difference between the two brothers.
The two become close, but she soon leaves town for work, sending Beverly into a depressive episode and leading him to abuse prescription drugs, become a slave to paranoid delusions and see “mutant women” with abnormal genitalia. Their co-dependence leads to their individual destructions as they try help each other by destroying themselves.
11. Hannah And Her Sisters (1986)
Woody Allen’s comedy-drama follows which tells the intertwined stories of an extended family over two years. The story begins with Thanksgiving party hosted by Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her husband, Elliot (Michael Caine), who has become infatuated with one of Hannah’s sisters, Lee (Barbara Hershey).
Lee herself is in a relationship with the much older, socially withdrawn artist, Frederick (Max Von Sydow), however she becomes disinterested and begins an affair with Elliot. Hannah’s hypochondriac ex-husband, Mickey (Woody Allen), also attempts to date one of Hannah’s sisters, Holly (Dianne Wiest) after their marriage ended, however it ends disastrously and contributes to his crashing existential crisis that leads to multiple unsatisfying experiments with religious conversions.
The third arc of the film follows the third sister, Holly, who is a former cocaine addict, jumps from job to job, from being an unsuccessful actress, to starting a catering business with her friend (Carrie Fisher), to trying to write. However, when she does write, she finds it surprisingly easy since her inspiration is found to be incredibly close – her sisters and their relationships with Elliot.
With Bergmanesque inspiration, emotional dilemmas full of angst and betrayal and hilariously rounded and developed characters, despite there being so many, the film is commonly mentioned to be one of Allen’s finest, winning him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, as well as Academy Awards for both Best Supporting Actor (Michael Caine) and Best Supporting Actress (Dianne West), and nominations for Editing, and Best Art Direction.
10. The White Balloon (1995)
The first feature of Jafar Panahi, a former assistant to the great Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (who co-wrote the screenplay along with Panahi himself and Parvis Shahbazi), “Badkonake Sefid” follows the adventures of little seven-year-old Razieh (Aida Mohammadkhani) as she searches for a 500 toman banknote that she lost on her way to buy a goldfish. Her older brother joins in her pursuit before the celebration for the Iranian New Year commences and their ill-tempered father discovers what happened.
In real time, Razieh meets caricature-like characters at the market who are simultaneously kind and terrifying, she bargains with the sympathetic fish salesman and reluctantly befriends a pumpkin seed chewing soldier. Fresh and unpredictable, the film is both thrilling and comedic as it contrasts Razieh’s guilty and naïve persona with her problem-solving and responsible older brother.
The film received many strong critical reviews and won numerous awards in the international film fairs around the world including the Prix de la Camera d’Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.
9. Adaptation (2002)
Spike Jonze’s comedy meta-film is difficult to explain. Written by “Being John Malkovich” genius, Charlie Kaufman, the film follows a semi-fictionalised version of Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) and a completely fictionalised identical twin brother, Donald (also played by Cage), who are both screenwriters.
Kaufman, who is extremely depressed and frustrated as he is unable to write an adaptation of the (very real) Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book “The Orchid Thief” is even more annoyed by the fact that his optimistic, happy-go-lucky brother moves in and has started going to Robert McKee’s famous formulaic script writing seminars, which he detests. Donald becomes successful overnight and is everything that Charlie wants to be and simultaneously hates.
However, when Donald pretends to be Charlie in an interview with the book’s author, Orlean (Meryl Streep), he discovers that she is hiding something – leading to both Kaufmans on a pseudo-hardboiled stake-out to learn the truth about “The Orchid Thief”.
The incredibly fresh concept and hilarious writing combined with Jonze’s tragic and sincere direction led to multiple accolades including an Oscar nomination for Kaufman (and his fictionalised twin, who is also credited as a writer), Kaufman also won the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.