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Dos Hermanos (Brother & Sister)

December 31, 2010 | By | Add a Comment

“Best of Chicago DIY Film” series. Originally appeared on the site 11/15/2010

Brian Welesko

Dir. Daniel Burman, 2010. Argentina. 105 min., Chicago International Film Festival.

Dos Hermanos, Marcos and Susana

DOS HERMANOS, Daniel Burman’s latest work, has been a major hit in his native Argentina. It is easy to see why. The film is an adaptation of an Argentinean novel Villa Laura, and well-known actors populate its cast. However, for all its homegrown elements, DOS HERMANOS feels less an artifact of a native cinema than it does a Spanish-language indie, designed to be accessible. The film takes a languid pace, moderating its emotions and muting its characters. It becomes a problem when there is so much promise at the beginning of a sequence, only to float to the next unmotivated.

DOS HERMANOS splits its time between Marcos and Susana, two aging siblings who have just lost their mother. Marcos, an aging goldsmith, has been prodded by Susana his whole life. When he is pushed into leaving Buenos Aires for a small vacation town, he comes out from under Susana’s control in a local production of Oedipus Rex. Susana, left in the city, seems to struggle without Marcos. She is manipulative, volatile, and a delight to watch, far more so than passive Marcos.

Since LOST EMBRACE, Burman’s breakout feature from 2004, the director’s work has become a mainstay here. In 2006, DERECHO DE FAMILIA played at CIFF, and EL NIDO VACIO was screened at the Chicago Latino Film Festival in 2008. His films, charming meditations on dual identity and outsider characters, are both reflective of Burman himself and the experiences of many of his viewers. While Chicago is diverse, it divides itself into cultural enclaves, making even a long and rich Latino heritage feel separate, intensifying its “otherness.” Burman is of Polish-Jewish descent, native to Argentina, and his themes both entertain and resonate with a sympathetic audience who also may struggle to understand their identity in the United States.

Burman seems to have moved past these themes in DOS HERMANOS, opting for a more universal reflection on sibling relationships and handling a parent’s death. It is not entirely unwelcome. However something feels less special, less honed and crafted. In DOS HERMANOS, everything is taken in stride, and nothing Susana does has any real consequence. When Susana’s neighbor catches her stealing his mail, he approaches her like one might a child- coddling, with a comforting smile. Our sympathies lie with Marcos, and we experience this world through him. He accepts Susana for who she is, supposed mental problems and all, so we are asked to do the same. The one time she does affect Marcos in a flare up of her temper, it feels like just any other in a long history. For Marcos, Susana is a wave that one lets wash over, a force that comes and goes. It is a sibling dynamic that feels natural, but problematic. Her character is one to be dealt with, accepted but not explored, which ultimately makes Susana feel empty. For Marcos, a character whose arc is contingent on Susana, nothing escalates and little is dramatic. Events just happen with minor notice.

Dos Hermanos

Yet, DOS HERMANOS does somehow resonate, albeit more mildly. It affects the viewer in the manner of an indie film- with a wry, mildly poignant understanding of the world. In Burman’s film, our default reaction is to smile thoughtfully or knowingly. We are never asked to fully deliver ourselves over to the emotions of the events, letting us slip easily in at their mother’s death and out at Marcos’s triumphant Oedipus performance. It is, in some ways, refreshing in its lightheartedness. Because Burman does not bother to dive much into Susana’s actions, we can watch unimpeded. It is freeing, but less meaningful.

I was excited more by the audience than the film itself. Daniel Burman conducted a dialogue at the close of the screening, fielding questions from an overwhelmingly Spanish-speaking audience. Despite a large population of native and second-language speakers in Chicago, the opportunity to see a Spanish-language film here is not high, and an Argentinean film remote. Those in attendance seemed hungry for a similar voice. The dialogue was conducted in both languages, delivered first in Spanish then followed by a translation. Daniel Burman may operate in a dual identity, and DOS HERMANOS may be an outgrowth of that, but it feels designed to be accessible, not simply universal.

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