How the Sister's Touch Can Save the Life

in 16th Lecce Festival of European Cinema

by Anna Maria Osmólska-Metrak

The competition of the 16th Festival of the European Cinema in Lecce could easily be named ‘Family and illness’. Most of the films presented focused on family crises, which was shown both as the cause and as the result of diverse health issues, both physical and – mainly – psychological (like anorexia, Alzheimer disease, different types of psychosis). Some of them allowed to formulate a wider sociological diagnosis, since what happens inside the family often reflects the state of society. It was also evident in many films that the axis of the story had been placed between the world of the children and the one of the adults/parents. In these confrontations the young were most often the ones who appeared stronger, took the initiative, sometimes falling back on extreme solutions like in the Polish film Hardkor Disko by Krzysztof Skonieczny, in the Greek Anemistiras by Dimitris Bitos, or in the Russian Corrections Class by Ivan I. Tverdovsky.

Min lilla syster (My Skinny Sister) by Sanna Lenken (Sweden), that was awarded the Fipresci prize, belongs to a rare category of films that reconcile the often divergent opinions of the critics and the public. Apart from the critics’ award it was also awarded the audience prize (it was earlier honoured in the same way at the Göteborg FF Nornic Film) and the jury prize for best screenplay (Sanna Lenken). The secret of its success lays in something quite simple: the story is unpretentious and sincere, the message clear and the cinematic language – adequate. It affects the emotions of the public without ever resorting to blackmail. The central subject of the movie (an eating disorder) is a difficult, painful problem, a tangle of different existential, social and cultural factors, which often becomes an unsolvable knot.

The author of the film, who admits to resorting to personal experiences was able to tell the story of a seriously ill teenager without journalistic tones, moralizing or didacticism. The point of view was wisely chosen by the author: the film is told from the perspective of a child, the younger sister of the sick girl. It’s through her eyes that we see the evolving drama and it’s thanks to her sensitivity we can see the first symptoms, overlooked by adults. The Swedish director doesn’t judge, she tells the story of a family where love, care and respect are present, proving that the problem of anorexia and bulimia can touch anyone and that no vaccine against these illnesses exists. However, Lenken shows how a problem like this can be faced and – even though it can’t become a substitute for medical and psychological care – how important is family’s conscious, constant support.

The screenwriter and director (My Skinny Sister is her first feature) skilfully tells the story, mixing seriousness with both emotion and humour. The film’s strongest feature is the two young leading actresses, Amy Deasismont and Rebecka Josepshson. The latter was found by Sanna when, after 800 auditions she was ready to abandon the project. The girl’s grandfather was the great Swedish actor Erland Josephson, who died in 2012, which proves that great talent can be inherited. Thanks to the performances by Rebecka and Amy the film becomes so much more than just a story about anorexia: it becomes a film about adolescence, about love, solidarity and sisterhood.

There is a great initiative going on at the Lecce film festival: screenings of selected films are organised for schoolchildren. My Skinny Sister was accepted with great interest and enthusiasm by young viewers and also by teachers who both had the possibility to talk to Sanna Leknen, ask questions and share their opinions.

Edited by Michael Pattison