Arnaud Desplechin is a director I quite like so I went to see his last film "Brother and Sister" on trust. Of course, family tensions, the difficult relationships between its members, are not new to him: he has dealt with the theme many times, and even in a particularly masterful way in "A Christmas Tale", but who cares if a creator ploughs the same furrow, provided he does it with renewed acuity. Besides, there seemed to be a little bit of novelty, at least as concerns the cast: Melvil Poupaud (instead of the fixture Mathieu Amalric), the Iranian Golshifteh Farahan, Romanian actress Cosmina Stratani and, even more surprising, Patrick Timsit as... Jewish psychiatrist.
The film starts very well, in an impressive way, with a double accident where the parents of Louis and Alice (the brother and sister of the title) are seriously injured by a truck while trying to help a young woman in an accident. I had strong vibrations, not knowing that it was the last time that emotion would seize me during the 108 long minutes of the screening. Because after this excellent sequence, irritation and boredom set in: hysterical or whiny characters, full of themselves, wallowing in their own suffering, pompous and artificial dialogues, lack of perspective (no humor putting things into perspective), loud expressions of hatred (of the brother and sister, of the brother for his ex-best friend Borkman), tears and sorrow, nervous breakdown, misery (that of Alice's admirer who doesn't have enough to eat), hospital, final throes and death (a six year old child, a miscarriage, an accidental driver, both parents... but not before the mother is threatened with amputation). It's bad melodrama in the Bergman style when the latter complacently exposes his despair. Worse, there are some particularly unpleasant sequences (Alice insulting the African pharmacist; Louis shamelessly yelling at his teenage nephew in a bookshop). The worst of the worst is the incoherence of the scenario: Alice and Louis, after having adored each other, hate each other... without really knowing why; Louis loves his father while daddy tore him down at each birthday by emphasizing everything he had not yet accomplished; Joseph, Louis' nephew, is seeing his uncle while Alice, his mother, does not want to hear about her brother; brother and sister, after having hated each other eternally, reconcile in two swift moves and even sleep in the same bed, Louis having gotten naked in it! Alice finds herself in Benin at the end without anything hinting her (supposedly ancient) desire to be there. Everything is in keeping, at the same time completely incoherent and taking itself terribly seriously.
Of course, there are the actors, who are very good, but what characters do they have to defend, poor them?
I admit I was surprised that after having seen eight of the director's films, to feel such a sense of rejection... a first I could have done without.
What has become of you, Student Desplechin? Come on, get a grip please!