MY LOVELY SISTER
Directed by Marco Carmel
Written by Marco Carmel and Emmanuel
Hebrew title: Achoti Hayaffa
Running time: 91 minutes In Hebrew and
Check theaters for subtitle information.
Marco Carmel’s My
is a charming and beautifully acted film about the love and hate
between two sisters, based on a Moroccan Jewish folk tale. How much you enjoy it
will depend on your ability to deal with a whimsical, supernatural component.
Without giving away all the details, suffice it to say that this ghostly element
is handled gracefully and elevates the film above the kitchen-sink realism that
would have made it ordinary and predictable.
It’s also, in a sly way, a
pointedly political film about an issue that is generally taboo in Israeli
The film, which received 11 nominations for Ophir Awards (the
Israeli Oscars), including Best Picture, focuses on a Mizrahi
They have no money but live within walking distance of a fabulous
beach, perhaps Ashkelon or Ashdod. Rahma (Evelin Hagoel) and Marie (Reymonde
Amsellem) are two sisters who are estranged because Rahma cannot forgive Marie
for marrying an Arab, Ali (Norman Issa).
Although Marie has found real
love with Ali, the rift between the sisters comes to dominate both their lives.
Rahma blames Marie for hastening the death of their beloved mother, whom Rahma
believes still inhabits a corner of their house. Rahma consults the spirit of
the mother as if she is an oracle, even obsessively baking cookies for her. This
behavior understandably spooks her longsuffering husband, Robert (Moshe Ivgy),
and her skeptical son, Kobi (Itay Turgeman). Robert, who may or may not have had
a flirtation or even an affair with the more freespirited Marie in the past,
urges Rahma to make peace with her sister. Marie is devastated by her banishment
from the family, although she seems more surprised by it than might seem
The feud between the sisters and the bitterness and suffering it
engenders is only intensified when a major character dies and then returns as a
ghost. The ghostly scenes are acted with great intensity that manages to
distract from their inherent silliness.
The superb acting is what carries
the day here. Hagoel has appeared in dozens of recent movies and television
dramas, including Shiva and Turn Left at the End of the World, but this is the
first time she’s had a starring role in a movie. Her compelling performance
makes Rahma a lost soul to be pitied rather than an intolerant
There’s a problem in the conception of the character because
Rahma is so sour and full of hate at the beginning, you know that if she doesn’t
open up and begin to blossom, there won’t be any movie.
So there’s a
certain predictability in her character’s arc, but not in her graceful
Amsellem has become one of Israel’s finest actresses in
recent years and has done remarkable work in such films as Seven Minutes in
Heaven and Three Mothers. Here, she has a playful, sensual performance and is
more appealing and lighter than she’s had a chance to be in the
Ivgy, Turgeman and Issa all give good, low-key performances, but
the movie is really about the two sisters. The male characters are all
underdeveloped, and this weakens the overall story. It’s hard to care, as all
these characters seem to, about what took place between Marie and Robert years
ago. Ali is simply The Good Arab. Other than being a devoted husband, he has no
There is no word about any hostility his family may have felt
toward him for marrying a Jewish woman who chose to remain childless. And
there’s no hint about what Marie’s life was like with him. Were they utterly
isolated from everyone, both Jews and Arabs, or did she have a role in his
community? These questions don’t seem to interest the writer/director Marco
Carmel, who is dealing in myth and archetypes.
But they will cross
The beautiful, Eastern-accented music is one of the
film’s joys, and it underscores the mood throughout.
While this is not a
preachy film about intermarriage and assimilation, it does deal with a real
question that haunts Israeli life: What happens when Jews and Arabs become close
enough to fall in love? While marriages between the groups are rare for obvious
reasons, they do happen. And My Lovely Sister examines the fallout from such a
union in a more effective and moving way than a more straightforward film would.