The Macaluso Sisters

 

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A film that hides its origin but fails to work for all that.

 
Macaluso Sisters, The
  

Although this second feature from Italy's Emma Dante is based on her own stage play I would never have guessed that it had its origins in the theatre. That fact might suggest that this is a very successful adaptation and I understand that the film has won considerable praise but I am frankly surprised by that. All the players involved are highly competent yet the film strikes me as hugely misjudged in more ways than one.

 

As the title indicates, the story told here concerns sisters, five in number, whom we first meet in their youth when the oldest is nineteen and the youngest is just eight. We then move on some twenty years or so before concluding with scenes in which the surviving sisters have reached old age. Throughout all this, the location is Palermo brightly photographed by Gherardo Gossi and the house in which the sisters grew up remains a key setting from start to finish. A tragic event in their early years continues to loom large and the film's most theatrical scene occurs much later and provides a climactic passage which points to another death.

 

The drama may darken as it proceeds but the opening scenes, which are short on background information about the family, rush us into a rather chaotic introduction to the sisters as they prepare to go to a beach. Those with foreknowledge of the plot will be waiting for disaster to strike, yet initially the film has no particular tone to establish its character. Furthermore, far too little is done to portray each sister in depth save that we learn that one of the oldest ones is a lesbian who has dreams of becoming a dancer. But, where the Alcott classic Little Women enables all of its film versions to characterise those sisters in a detailed way that involves us with all of them, The Macaluso Sisters lacks the skill to draw us in fully. Indeed, despite the material being theatrical in origin, it often seems to cry out to be treated as a novel in which case we could have entered into the thoughts of each sister in turn.

 

Disillusionment and the passing of time should yield an emotional richness but Dante's approach works against that. Although the tale is basically presented in naturalistic terms, at times the dead reappear as hallucinatory images seen beside the person who conjures them up and when it comes to that early tragedy the initial decision to leave the details vague is then oddly converted into gradual late revelations spread over two flashbacks. The time-jumps in the narrative may well initially cause some confusion for those who are not expecting them and for some reason a constant in the film is a regular use of Satie's most popular piece, the 'Gymnopédie No.1' (there are some songs on the soundtrack, too, including one which I believe implies that the sisters are marvellous creatures). As presented here, the Macaluso sisters seem far from wonderful and yet never become figures whose frustrations in life move us. This is a family tale and should therefore be involving yet it leaves one totally unmoved despite the best efforts of the cast.

 

Original title: Le sorelle Macaluso.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Simona Malato, Serena Barone, Donatella Finocchiaro, Laura Giordani, Eleanora De Luca, Susanna Piraino, Alissa Maria Orlando, Anita Pomario, Viola Pusateri, Maria Rosaria Alati, Ileana Rigsno, Rosalba Bologna, Bruno Di Chiara.

 

Dir Emma Dante, Pro Marica Stocchi, Screenplay Emma Dante, Giorgio Vasta and Elena Stancanelli, from the play by Emma Dante, Ph Gherardo Gossi, Pro Des Emita Frogato, Ed Benni Atria, Costumes Vanessa Sannino.

 

Rosamont/Rai Cinema/Minimum Fax Media-Curzon.
94 mins. Italy. 2020. Rel: 18 December 2020. Available no Curzon Home Cinema. No Cert.