Emma Dante has created a beautiful and affecting film version of her play about five Sicilian sisters, forever changed by a tragedy.
Dante creates an other-worldly and timeless Palermo; five sisters in a rooftop apartment, breeding doves for weddings and celebrations There are no parents and the eldest – maybe Maria (Eleonora De Luca) or Pinuccia (Anita Pomario) – rule the chaotic household of Katia (Alissa Maria Orlando), brattish Lia (Susanna Piraino) and kind-hearted Antonella (Viola Pusateri). It is like any other household with the sisters squabbling, sparring and playing with each other.
A rare day off sees them head to a beach next to a hotel and they seem to shed their petty differences and exult in the sun, water and freedom. There is a joyous scene where they dance together, seeming to lead all the beach-goers in a coordinated performance. Maria sneaks off to meet with a crush and Pinuccia tires of the youngsters and goes for a swim. Off-camera, a tragedy occurs.
We are now with the remaining sisters in middle-age. The same apartment, the same squabbles but now they are bitter and full of unspoken recrimination. The unity that kept them together in their childhood is fractured and Lia (Serena Barone), in particular, is like a malevolent demon. She and Pinuccia (Donatella Finocchiaro), forced to live together, are full of seething hatred. And then we are with the sisters in old age.
The cinematography and art direction is gorgeous, the apartment like a sixth character where we see little clues about the sisters and watch as it, and they, age. The casting is excellent, particularly with the three actors who play Lia (Maria Rosaria Alati in old age), whose pugnacious scowl is recognisable at each age. The final scenes, almost wordless, remind me of the ending of Bandar Band (2020) in their poetry and economy. I didn’t expect to be so moved by what is essentially a simple story.
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