Son Frere directed by Patrice Chéreau, written by Chéreau and Anne-Louise Trividic from the novel by Philippe Besson, produced by Pierre Chevalier, with Bruno Todeschini, Eric Caravaca, Nathalie Boutefeu and Maurice Garrel. An Azor Films production. A Mongrel Media release. 95 minutes. Opens Friday (December 10) at the Camera (see Indie & Rep Films, page 112) . Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Some films make you ask questions. Son Frère, a drama from French writer/director/theatre genius Patrice Chéreau, makes you ask, "Why did English Canadian distributors buy this, and who do they expect will go see it?" The cast has no real star power outside France, and the last Chéreau film to have any real impact on the North American market was 1994's La Reine Margot. Those Who Love Me Can Take The Train (1998) is a tremendous picture but was barely seen here, and 2001's Intimacy was more noted for the hardcore sex scenes between real actors (Kerry Fox and Mark Rylance) than for its ability to draw people into the theatre.
North American audiences' idea of a good French film is Amélie, not a bleak story about two brothers, one gay and one straight, whose bad relationship is made worse when one of them finds himself trapped in the health care system with a rare and fatal blood disease.
Under Chéreau's admirably rigorous direction, a cold hospital light falls over everything, and the sick brother's condition is presented in near-documentary style.
When he gets shaved for surgery, the prodecure is shown in a cramped, closed-in frame, as if it were being shot in a real hospital, jamming the camera crew in among the monitors and bedpans.
Son Frère might represent a Cartesian progression in Chéreau's filmography. Those Who Love Me was about a family at a funeral, and Intimacy is one of those peculiarly French constructs about how we're all dying spirits trapped in rotting flesh.
Son Frère is like that only more so.
It's an interesting idea for a philosophical paper - indeed, one that's been written a few hundred times in recent centuries. But I'm not sure a filmic exploration of death and dying ranks high on anyone's list of "films I've got to get out and see this weekend."