Brother and Sister (Dos Hermanos)

An Unexpected Delight!

A film called Brother and Sister (Dos Hermanos) dropped into the Sarasota Film Festival on Sunday. The show was most likely sold out as the theater was packed. In the festival’s program, the film was described this way: “Acclaimed Jewish/Argentinian Director Daniel Burman takes another look at family politics in this comic charmer.”

IMDB had no reviews in English for me to glance at. Would I be seeing a Woody Allen-ish family drama? Would there be laugh-at-loud jokes a la Neil Simon? Well the answer to those questions is that neither Allen or Simon came to mind as I watched. Besides that the characters weren’t the least bit ‘Jewish’.

As the film opens we find ourselves at a meeting of an apartment house’s residents. One of the apartment dwellers had just died the day before, and the topic under discussion was should they send flowers, or a palm, or make a donation. The discussion was not quite heated but there were many differences of opinion. Then she entered.

She is Susana, played marvelously by Graciela Borges. After an older woman offered her two cents, Susana said, “No one cares what you think…” What she didn’t say to finish the sentence was “…you old bag”. The room went dead quiet. I wish I could show you the shocked expression on the elder woman’s face. It was … priceless. In the theater, we laughed because it was so unexpected. This was just the first of many, many instances when Susana would shock us.

Susana was a cross between Bea Arthur’s Maude, ready to comment on anything and everything, asked or not, and NY actress Sylvia Miles. Borges as Susana was always decked out in one flamboyant outfit after another. Notice I didn’t mention stylish. She’d wear huge sunglasses indoors, an ostrich feather wig (one of her many wigs), mannish tailored suits with huge shoulders or some kind of hat that you would never ever see in public on anyone else. If that wasn’t enough to scare you, she had zero sense of decorum, or manners, and was thoughtless about whether or not she was being offensive.

She was also a real estate hustler. She’d go to meet a real estate broker and agree to buy an apartment – only to ‘suddenly realize‘ that she hadn’t brought her check book. She probably took advantage of Marcos financially, but he overlooked that for the most part. He will make a remark about money, but not when or how you expected it. Beyond that – Susana often stole her next door neighbor’s mail. But the icing on the cake was that after their mother died, Susana had the roaming feature turned off on brother Marcos’s phone effectively stranding him in the telephonic sense, which went perfectly with how she stiffled him emotionally.

Marcos was the other half of the story. He was short, graying, and he’s somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty years of age. He had devoted his life to caring for their mother, who passes on about one reel in. He’s also gay, but not much is made of this until much further along. Marcos was the kind of guy who at a party, when a waiter offered an appetizer from a tray, Marcos would say, “Why don’t you just leave the whole tray here?”

He’d also fill his pockets or his shoulder bag with the party food. But Marcos was a gentleman, and a good guy. He was well liked, and respected by the family. Which was not the case for Susana. But he was under his sister’s thumb. He’d simmer, and stew, and chafe under her outrageous or often boorish and embarrassing behavior. But he kept his cool even while displaying a little bit of a sad, hang-dog look.

Ultimately Susana tells Marcos she’s going to sell the Mother’s apartment, and she wants him to live in this backwater apartment villa she’s just bought in Uruguay. Different country? Si. But it wasn’t that far away just an hour or so away by ferry.

But Marcos doesn’t want to live in Uruguay. ‘Why not,’ she says. ‘You have nothing here and you’re a nobody in Buenos Aires,’ in her usual blunt and outspoken way. So off he goes. And surprising, even though he initially hated the place, he begins to flourish, making friends, playing chess at the cantina, and he buys himself a scooter. He even joins a local theatrical troupe in the Uruguayan version of off-off-off Broadway, hoping to land a role in their shoe-string production of Oedipus Rex.

Well Marcus’s new-found freedom isn’t what Susana wanted for him. In fact, she’s extremely jealous. Don’t forget, she’s controlling, manipulative, and there’s nothing she won’t do to get her way. Harsh words flow from her mouth. Surely, we expect this, and we aren’t disappointed.

Burman’s film is funny, not so much of a knee slapper, but the humor is more subtle in one sense, yet outrageous in another sense. Yet, it is quite endearing, and will really charm you. There’s no fancy settings, or lush camera work, and the apartments are weary and tired. Marcos is played by Antonio Gasalla, and he along with Borges have about 80% of the film’s dialogue between them. Their timing, and the way Burman has blocked out the scenes are just masterful. After a while, you begin to forget that you’re watching a film. While Graciela Borges is playing a woman who you detest because she’s so outre, or over-the-top, you accept it because that’s the way the character was written.

Borges herself seemed contained, playing Susana as if Susana had no idea of how badly she behaved. Marcos was also contained. He didn’t do a slow burns, or even a fast burn. But when Marcos began to enjoy his new life – when he cooked his risotto for his stage director, or noticed how good he was at acting, his character began to sparkle. His eyes were bright, he’d laugh, and he was a new man.

Puttin' on the Ritz

I wasn’t sure if I’d like this film, and once I stored Woody Allen and Neil Simon back into their own film comedy compartments, I really did  enjoy myself, as did most of those around me. A nice round of applause was given to the film as the credits rolled. By the way, as the final credits rolled, the music track was “Puttin’ on the Ritz“. Thanks SFF for bringing Dos Hermanos to Sarasota.

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