6   +   8   =  

Rayna (Monika Naydenova) is a girl who can’t stop crying wolf. She lives with her mother (Svetlana Yancheva) and elder sister Kamelia (Elena Zamyarkova) by the side of a busy road, selling clay models that they make out the front of their house. Bored and eager for escapism, Rayna likes to weave fantastical tales of her supposedly tragic past. It drives her family, and her sister’s boyfriend Miro (Assen Blatechki), round the bend.

And of course, it gets her in trouble. Sister follows Rayna as one of her lies goes awry, putting the livelihood of her family in jeorpardy.

The world that writer-director Svetla Tsotsorkova creates in her sophomore feature is a harsh one. Everyone is unhappy; I’m not sure anyone smiles in the whole film. It’s a tough life. Rayna and Kamelia’s father has been absent for longer than they can remember, and their mother has run herself ragged looking after them. Kamelia is dating Miro, but they don’t seem to even like one another that much – it doesn’t help that he supports himself by stealing car parts. The police are corrupt, and the hospitals are useless if you don’t have money (or a way with words, like Rayna). There’s little warmth to be found anywhere.Tsotsorkova is determined to find it anyway. However grim this world first appears, there’s an underpinning of affection holding our characters together. They couldn’t be accused of being touchy-feely, yet there’s never any question about the love between Rayna, her mum and her sister – even though they spend most of Sister in the middle of a huge argument. They still look out for each other. Whatever else happens, they’re family, and that’s the most important thing.

Sister flags in the mid-section, when Rayna and Miro start searching for a doctor to patch him up after he is beaten by a gang of thieves. The movie meanders as they do; losing steam the longer they wander. It does, however, give Rayna and Miro a chance to warm to each other. Despite their initial antipathy, he is grateful to her for showing up when she did to rescue him, and she is just happy for the company. Although their relationship starts off as crass and hateful, by the end of the film, it becomes almost sweet. Again, Tsotsorkova finds the warmth in something that seems devoid of it.

Events start to become interesting again as the movie draws to a close, and the sisters confront their mother about something that has been bothering them their whole lives. The issue of their paternity seems to pop up rather suddenly (notwithstanding allusions to it by the creepy cop earlier on), but it’s believable that it would be weighing so heavily on the minds of Rayna and Kamelia. If family is everything, then they should know who their family is.

While they don’t get the answer they were after, the fact they were finally able to ask the question speaks to the catharsis the events of the movie have given them. Sister can be a little dull sometimes, but you do grow to care about the unconventional family unit. That’s why the final shot – sweet and unshowy, a paean to togetherness despite everything – is the perfect way to end this imperfect movie.

★★★

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