There was something mystifying about A Brother’s Love (La femme de mon frère), a film billed as a comedy-drama that contains very little of the former while the latter seems entirely unimportant.
Recent PHD graduate Sophia (Anne-Élisabeth Bossé) is at a loose end after failing to secure a position in the philosophy department of her university, living in a spare room in her brother’s apartment and volunteering at the most depressing art gallery in the city. When her brother Karim (Patrick Hivon) begins dating her gynaecologist Éloise (Évelyne Brochu), her co-dependent relationship with her sibling begins to fracture and Sophia has to start to find her own way in the world.
To start on a positive, Monia Chokri’s debut feature film is beautifully shot, with oddly clinical pastel pink walls in a hospital, a hazy night out filmed in hyper-real colour and sound, and a painfully awkward family dinner that ends in an explosion of shouting. Bossé’s performance as Sophia is good too; as a genuinely self-absorbed and selfish woman who refuses to move away or grow up.
Sadly, the style doesn’t override the complete lack of substance to A Brother’s Love. It came to point where halfway through I was wondering if this was a satirical take-down of “middle-class indie films”, but sadly this film does not have the intelligence to do that. This too is not a commentary on how women in films and in life are expected to grow up, while extended male adolescence is something actors are able to build their entire careers off.
Its script is built around two aspects: a sibling relationship that is unsettlingly close (with too much implied incest to ignore), and a painful, edgy attempt at nihilism that again feels like something that an angsty teenager would scribble on the torn pages of a diary. The point is meant to be that Sophia has never grown up properly, has never had to, riding on a wave of academic intelligence and her upper-middle-class, white privilege. However well-considered the motivations and convictions of a character may be, that doesn’t always translate to interesting or worthwhile film-making.
There is another dynamic to A Brother’s Love that makes it even harder to swallow, and that is the treatment of any characters of colour – or, in fact, the complete lack of them. During a double date she is ambushed into, Sophia’s first question when seeing Jasmin (Mani Soleymanlou) – who happens to have a beard – is “Who’s the Islamist?” – a line that serves literally no purpose other than some apparent attempt at a joke when it is revealed that he is Greek. In the most frustrating and frankly patronising sequence in the film, Sophia begins to teach French to a classroom of recent immigrants to the country. Each student is introduced in a close up straight to camera, giving their age, where they have come from and how they ended up in Canada. The entire section of this part is seemingly invented to remind Sophia of her privilege in possibly the most basic and “wokest” way possible.
By the time the credits began to roll it was a relief to escape the cinema.
Monia Chokri’s eye for beauty and colour is the best thing about a film that falls so short of the mark it wasn’t really worth the attempt.
by Rose Dymock