Sorelle Mai -- Film Review

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VENICE -- Marco Bellocchio takes his experimental medium-length film "Sorelle," which stars his family and debuted at the 2006 Rome International Film Festival, and adding new material turns it into the full-length "Sorelle Mai" (that translates into "Sisters Never"). The look of the no-budget workshop project is rough, but entirely credible performances and neatly woven editing by Bellocchio's wife Francesca Calvelli ("No Man's Land," "The Solitude of Prime Numbers") make the high concept family-student affair oddly engaging.

Very much a niche and festival film, "Sorelle Mai" is nevertheless handled by Celluloid Dreams, who along with Bellocchio's auteur renown shouldn't have any problems getting the film limited releases in arthouse cinemas. Domestically, box office will be small and mostly restricted to cinephiles.

The film was shot over 10 years with the students of six, separate Fare Cinema workshops, and is broken up by the workshops' time frames: 1999, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. With the exception of Donatella Finocchiaro, the family members play themselves, although most of the relationships have been changed.

"Sorelle Mai" begins when Elena (Bellocchio's daughter, who is wonderfully natural at every age) is five. Her mother Sara (Finocchiaro) is an often-absent actress so Elena has become very tied to her uncle Pier Giorgio (Bellocchio's son), a frustrated artist; and lives in the small town of Bobbio (Bellocchio's hometown) with Pier Giorgio's spinster aunts (Letizia and Maria Luisa Bellocchio).

In the film's main stories, over the years Sara decides to take Elena to live with her in Milan but they return often to Bobbio and Pier Giorgio becomes an actor then runs into trouble with small-time thugs to whom he owes money. The brother and sister have a rocky relationship that at times seems like it will dip into incest, but that strand is never developed. In 2007, a new storyline is introduced, of a young teacher (Alba Rohrwacher) having boyfriend problems who rents a room from the aunts.

The two older women offer a running monologue in the background often on morbid or sad family anecdotes, that one has the impression are caught on the fly, but with a gentle grace that is always wryly funny. Interspersed throughout are moments of Bellocchio's films (including "Fist in His Pocket" and "The Nanny"), most of the time as quick flashes that relate to the family's situation onscreen.

The camera sticks tight to the Bellocchios � medium and long shots are few and far between, mostly when the characters are outdoors in nature. The oneiric ending, of the family lawyer (Gianni Schicchi Gabrieli) disappearing into a lake dressed in a tuxedo, plays like a farewell to this master class of a home movie.

Venue: Venice International Film Festival (Out of Competition)
Production companies: Kavac Film, Fare Cinema, RAI Cinema, with the Province of Piacenza and City of Bobbio
Sales: Celluloid Dreams
Cast: Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Elena Bellocchio, Donatella Finocchiaro, Letizia Bellocchio, Maria Luisa Bellocchio, Gianni Schicchi Gabrieli, Alba Rohrwacher, Alberto Bellocchio
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Executive Producer: Irma Misantoni
Directors of photography: Marco Sgorbati, Giampaolo Conti ("1999")
Production designer: G. Maria Sforza Fogliani ("2005")
Music: Carlo Crivelli, Enrico Pesce
Costume designers: Daria Calvelli ("2004")
Editor: Francesca Calvelli
No rating, 108 minutes
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