Demi-Soeur: Film Review

This determinedly wacky and sentimental comedy strains too hard to pull at the heartstrings.

A mentally challenged senior attempts to bond with her half-brother in this quirky French comedy.

Who needs therapy when a dose of Ecstasy is all that’s needed to repair dysfunctional family relations? That’s the lesson one takes away from Demi-Soeur, starring Josiane Balasko (French Twist). Co-starring Michel Blanc (Monsieur Hire), who surely deserves better material, this sentimental French farce unsuccessfully strains for laughs while lurching towards its all too predictable denouement.

Balasko, who also directed and co-scripted, plays the sixty-something Nenette who has the mental capacity of a little girl. Left alone after the death of her mother, she’s sent to an institution, but quickly flees in search of her long-gone father when she discovers that their no pets policy precludes her from bringing along her beloved pet turtle, Tootie.

Wandering in the woods, she follows, in Alice in Wonderland style, a rabbit who leads her to an underground rave where she’s befriended by the members of a female punk band. When the police swoop in, their gregarious roadie stashes their drugs in Nenette’s bag.

She eventually makes her way to the small town where her father lived, only to discover that he’s dead and that she has a half-brother, Paul (Blanc), an emotionally repressed pharmacist who wants little to do with her and is estranged from his own son and granddaughter. But when she accidentally doses his coffee with the pills that she thinks are sweeteners, he’s able to tap into his inner mensch and embrace the idea of taking care of his childlike sibling, while suddenly deciding to restore his other familial relationships as well.

Portraying her character’s mental disability with the sort of annoying, forced cutesiness to be found primarily in bad movies, Balasko inadvertently makes her character annoying rather than endearing. While Blanc is far more restrained, he’s ultimately undone by the contrivances of the formulaic script. And with its unfortunate plot device involving his character’s finally loosening up only thanks to the illegal and dangerous drug he’s unwittingly ingested, this trivial film delivers a highly unfortunate message indeed.

(Rialto Premieres)

Production: LGM Films, StudioCanal, Josey Films, France 2 Cinema

Cast: Michel Blanc, Josiane Balasko, Brigitte Rouan, Francoise Lepine, George Aguilar

Christine Murillo

Director: Josiane Balasko

Screenwriters: Josiane Balasko, Franck Lee Joseph

Producers: Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont

Executive producer: Romaine Rousseau

Director of photography: Sabine Lacelin

Editor: Andrea Sedlackova

Production designer: Olivier Radot

Costume designer: Fabienne Katany

Composer: Christophe Julien

Not rated, 86 min.