Son frère Review

Patrice Chéreau’s 2003 film is a long way away from the operatic choral arrangements of his previous two films, La Reine Margot and Those Who Love Me Can Take The Train, operating for a more intimate register in the story of two brothers trying to rekindle their relationship when one of them is faced with a serious illness. Inevitably, it’s a grim subject, slow, drawn-out, talky, with lots of bitterness expressed between family members, full of anger and self-hatred based on long held grudges. Perhaps not so different from the earlier films after all then…

Son frère does indeed seem to benefit from the turning inward of those dark emotions – the fury and intensity of the words expressed making the film just as emotionally forceful and dynamic in the characterisation as any of the director’s previous works. It’s similarly well scripted, well performed and well directed, getting to the underlying emotions with precision. Although Luc and Thomas both live in Paris, they haven’t seen or spoken to each other in years until Thomas, the eldest, rings Luc and tells him that he is suffering from a blood disease that leaves him in constant danger of dying from a haemorrhage. Helping his brother through his treatment and convalescence back home in Brittany, the rekindling of their relationship however has a negative impact on their relationships with their respective partners.

The resultant film is emotionally gruelling, and if it doesn’t really convincingly get to the heart of the personal disagreements that lie between the two brothers, how it affects their partners or why of all people it’s his estranged brother Luc that Thomas decides to reach out to at this critical time, Son frère nonetheless remains powerful on the question of facing up to one’s mortality. For Luc as much as Thomas, it’s a reminder of what is important, a realisation that inevitably forces them to make difficult decisions about their lives.

The Disc: Son frère was previously released by Peccadillo Pictures in 2004, but I don’t know what differences, if any, there are between this new release for their Petit Péché imprint and the previous DVD edition. Shot on Super 16, the image is naturally grainy and strongly contrasted with saturated colouration, and the transfer copes with this well, showing reasonably good definition and detail. There are no less than three audio mixes available, including a DTS 5.1 mix, all of which are fine, but there is no real difference between them, the film being mostly dialogue-based and front-centred. Other than trailers for other Peccadillo releases, the only real extra feature is a good Interview with Patrice Chéreau, which goes in-depth on the reasons for making the film very differently from his usual style and on his approach to adapting Philippe Besson’s original novel.

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