London Film Festival: Our Little Sister & Brooklyn

We were charmed by Saoirse Ronan-starring Brooklyn and Hirokazu Kore-eda's Our Little Sister, two films concerning female protagonists making new lives for themselves, at BFI London Film Festival

Article by Josh Slater-Willams | 16 Oct 2015

Our Little Sister

Based on a popular manga, Our Little Sister (★★★★) sees three upwardly mobile adult sisters attend the funeral of the father who left them and their mother years ago for another woman. At the ceremony they meet, for the first time, their teenage half-sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose), who’s unhappily living with her self-absorbed mother. On a whim, oldest sibling Sachi (Haruka Ayase), the de facto head of the family unit, invites the teen to come live with her and the other sisters in the ancestral home they inherited from their grandmother, in which they've fostered the cheerful atmosphere of a sorority house.

For anyone familiar with the trajectory of Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda's career over the last decade or so, this latest film will feel right at home. Like I WishStill Walking, and Like Father, Like Son, this is a slice-of-life drama about a fractured family that never explodes into big emotional scenes of wild gestures. Instead, there’s a leisurely focus on the little details of the in-between moments of life, which is no less powerful for its lack of showiness. Perfectly pitched and bolstered by four beautiful lead performances, Our Little Sister, with the gentlest of touches, both breaks one’s heart and makes it swoon.

Notes from the Twitteratti:


One interesting touch in Kore-eda’s film, which also works as a vivid portrait of the seaside town of its setting, is how it addresses ways in which familial bonds can also develop between those of no blood relation. For instance, there’s an ill diner owner who is practically like an aunt to the girls, with her food and friendliness having been a constant in their lives since they were children. This notion of having family separate from your biological ties also comes up in one of the festival’s English-language gala films, another female-led drama in which a young woman finds herself navigating a new life of both exciting prospects and daunting changes.

Adapted from Colm Tóibín’s beloved novel, Brooklyn (★★★★), if judged solely on its marketing material, initially seems like the kind of quintessential tearjerker that gets labelled by cynical types as 'the sort of film your mum wants to see.' No offence to your respective mothers, but there is a lot more to this refreshingly old-fashioned melodrama than its lightweight looks suggest.

Child star made good Saoirse Ronan makes an impressive move towards adult leading roles as Eilis, a young Irish immigrant navigating her way in Brooklyn of 1952, her sister (Fiona Glascott) having funded her move there for a “better life” via a church sponsorship scheme. Devastating homesickness eventually makes way for hard-hitting romance as she falls for Italian-American lad Tony (a very sweet Emory Cohen, making up for his horrid turn as Bradley Cooper’s son in The Place Beyond the Pines). A disruption back in Ireland sees her return there for a while, subsequently falling for another man (Domnhall Gleeson) as other forces seem determined to prevent her returning to her new home.

Despite not much punch in the visual storytelling department, Brooklyn is a touching romance and nuanced exploration of how perceptions of home and family shift as life throws us new opportunities. It’s also, despite the tragedy and longing, one of the year’s funnier films thanks to a game cast (Julie Walters is hilarious as Eilis’ boarding house landlady) and Nick Hornby’s screenplay, the latter of which should also be commended for managing to engage with various ethnicities head-on without resorting to stereotypes.

London Film Festival ran 7-18 Oct

Our Little Sister is released 15 Apr 2016 by Curzon Artificial Eye

Brooklyn is released 6 Nov 2015 by Lionsgate