Film & Television – Siblings

While sibling storylines abound in film and television, our list of films, television programs, and documentaries veer away from stereotypical representations and delve more deeply into the nuances of sibling dynamics. In recent years, there have been several films and television shows highlighting contentious and clichéd sibling relationships, usually stemming from rivalry for resources or from personality clashes, and meant to be funny. Yet the depth, poignancy, and love between adult siblings, and their meanings across gender categories, are often overlooked. An extraordinary exception is the French reality show, L’Agence, which depicts adult siblings helping, supporting, playing with, caring about, and loving one another. Not only does it celebrate the similarities and bonds of family members, it shows how they recognize and appreciate their differences. It is especially wonderful to enjoy this reverie of brothers (since such warmth is usually depicted among sisters). Merveilleux!

Film

A Tale of Two Sisters (Korean: 장화, 홍련). Directed by Kim Jee-woon. 2003. B.O.M. Film Productions Co. [A Korean psychological thriller, with horror overtones, is a contemporary interpretation of a Joseon Dynasty folktale that illustrates the love, concern, joy, and loyalty two sisters have for each other within a complicated family dynamic.]

Cries and Whispers. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. 1972. Svensk Filmindustri. [An acclaimed film set upon the return of two sisters to their dying sister and her nurse, examining themes of emotional distance, the body, touch, and religiosity.]

Dhanak (transl. Rainbow). Directed and written by Nagesh Kukunoor. 2015. Kukunoor Movies. India. [An award winning and heartwarming family film about a young girl and her younger brother who take a road trip through rural Rajasthan on a quest to restore the boy’s sight. Filled with music, magic, and adventure.]

Interiors. Directed by Woody Allen. 1978. Rollins-Joffe Productions. USA. [Three adult daughters, whose mother was a successful interior designer, struggle with professional creativity and personal relationships against the backdrop of the miasma from their parents relationship.] 

Les Enfants Terribles. Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. 1950. O.G.C. [Sibling rivalry is often understood as a competition for something. Sometimes, however, it is focused on possessing one’s sibling. A disturbing take on love and power between siblings.]

Like Water for Chocolate (Spanish: Como Agua Para Chocolate). Directed by Alfonso Arau. 1992. [Based on the 1989 novel by Laura Esquivel, this magical realism film illustrates the complicated, tragic dynamic of three sisters whose relationships are guided by stifling tradition.]

Little Brother (a.k.a. Hello, Brother. Korean: 안녕, 형아). Directed by Lim Tai-hyung. 2005. MK Buffalo. South Korean [Inspired by a true story, this film illustrates the developing relationship between a boy diagnosed with cancer and his little brother in all its comedic and tearful charm.] 

Marvin’s Room. Directed by Jerry Zaks. 1996. Scott Rudin Productions. USA. [Based on the play of the same name by Scott McPherson. When illness strikes, and an aging father is ailing, sisters reconnect and dig deep into who they are.)

Mozart’s Sister (French: Nannerl, la soeur de Mozart). Directed by René Féret. 2010. Les Films Alyne. [A reimagined couple of years beginning when Maria Anna was 14 and her brother, Wolfgang, was nine. It’s a story of gender inequity within the family and European societies at large, artistic passion and prodigy, favoritism, and sacrifice.]

My Brother, My Sister (Italian: Mio fratello mia sorella). Directed by Roberto Capucci. 2021.Lotus Production. [After a long absence, a brother returns to his sister upon the death of their father, who arranged for them to both live together for one year in order to share in the inheritance. Aside from the stereotypical ‘crazy uncle’, the story unfolds as siblings rediscover each other, and he learns about his niece and nephew who has been diagnosed as schizophrenic.]

My Little Sister (German: Schwesterlein). Directed by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond. 2020. Film Movement. Switzerland. [A woman does all she can to rescue her brother from the challenges of cancer, with an homage to a popular fairy tale. Nina Hoss’ exceptional performance allows us to see the brother through his sister’s loving eyes.]

Our Little Sister. Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. 2015. [Three sisters invite their half-sister to live with them, and relationships unfold.]

Pauline and Paulette. Directed by Lieven Debrauwer. 2001. Belgium. [An exploration of renewed sister relationship after another sister dies, the role of money and inheritance in shaping family dynamics and obligations, and obtuse notions of disability.]

Radium Girls. Directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher and Ginny Mohler. 2018. Cine Mosaic. USA. [The story of three sisters, the catastrophic impact of unregulated capitalism on workers’ health, and the courage to be a whistleblower.]

Sister (French: L’Enfant d’en haut). Directed by Ursula Meier. 2012. Vega Film. Switzerland. [What is a sister? What is a brother? How does poverty influence our relationships? How does the numbness and frustration, impact love? How do other people’s view of us influence our presentation to the world? Recent television series romanticize the grittiness and humor in poverty; this more realistic portrait will break your heart.]

The Day Will Come (Danish: Der kommer en dag). Directed by Jesper W. Nielsen. 2016. Zentropa Entertainments. Denmark. [Presented as a 3-part series on Netflix. We know of the psychopathic treatments of youth in various orphanages throughout the world, secular and religious-based, as well as some residential programs still. Based on actual accounts, the devotion of two brother to one another is what carries the film.]

The Makioka Sisters. Directed by Kon Ichikawa. 1983. Toho. [The relationships among four sisters in Japan are revealed against a background of cultural traditions, family obligation, rebellion, and four seasons.]

The Prince of Tides. Directed by Barbra Streisand. 1991. Columbia Pictures, Barwood Films, Longfellow Pictures. USA. Based on the book by Pat Conroy. [Marketed as a romance, the film’s subtext presents a troubled man who, after his sister’s suicide attempt, speaks with her psychiatrist. It illustrates the impact siblings have on each other throughout their lives.]

The Straight Story. Directed by David Lynch. 1999. Asymmetrical Productions. Rated G. USA. [How far would you go to reconcile with an estranged brother? Based on the true story of Alvin Straight who muses in the film: “There’s no one who knows your life better than a brother that’s near your age…He knows who you are and what you are better than anyone on Earth.”]

The Whales of August. Directed by Lindsay Anderson. 1987. Nelson Entertainment. [Two sisters in their 80s reflect upon their lives and losses and futures at a vacation home on Maine’s rugged coast.]

The Willoughbys. Directed by Kris Pearn. 2020. Netflix Animation. Rated G. Based on the book by Lois Lowry. [Despite its flaws – the reckless depiction of children running through traffic – it centers on four siblings who go to great lengths to remain together after their parents abandon them.]

Vincent and Theo. Directed by Robert Altman. 1990. Belbo Films. [Originally developed as a television series, a shorter version was prepared for theatrical release. It reveals the relationship between Vincent van Gough and his brother Theo, and how their lives were so intertwined. Robert Ebert gives a marvelous review.]

Also recommended: At Eternity’s Gate. Directed by Julian Schnabel. 2018. Riverstone Pictures. [There are a couple of scenes of great affection between the brothers.]

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Directed by Lasse Hallström. 1993. Matalon Teper Ohlsson. [The story of a family in crisis, with the oldest of four looking after his family, including a younger intellectually-challenged brother. The mother, played by Darlene Cates, is our favorite character.]

Television

Giri/Haji (Japanese: 義理/恥, “Duty/Shame”). Showrunner, Joe Barton. BBC Two, aired on Netflix. [Is this a gangster thriller with family overtones, or a family drama with gangster shoot-ups? The subplots of warring Japanese gangs and a chase into Great Britain propels the story of a man’s complicated devotion to his younger brother, which is relatable to any sibling relationship. How does love and devotion intertwine, if at all? The name of the production studio: Sister.]

Grace and Frankie, Season 4, Episodes 5-6, Netflix. USA. [Frankie, played by Lily Tomlin, connects with her estranged sister.]

It’s Okay to not be Okay, TVN, Netflix. South Korea. [Commonly described as a romance, this series depicts the loving and complex relationship between a young man and his older, autistic brother, and their friend who wants to join their brotherhood.]

L’Agence (English: The Parisian Agency: Exclusive Properties), Season 1, Réservoir Prod, Netflix. France. [A reality show depicting Kretz family and their family real estate business, Kretz & Partners. The family includes the parents, their four sons (the youngest is still in high school), and their maternal grandmother. An uplifting, refreshing depiction of joyful family bonds.]

Shtisel, YES Network, Netflix. Israel. [While there is not much emphasis on the sibling relationships between lead character Akiva, his brother, and sister, the contentious relationship between the patriarch, Shulem Shtisel, and his younger brother, Nuchem, is dynamic in seasons three and four.]

Sisters, Produced by Imogen Banks and Nicole O’Donohue. 2017. Australia. [Scandal ensues when a prominent fertility specialist is revealed to have secretly used his own sperm to impregnate several of his patients. His one daughter seeks to discover her biological sisters and brothers – drama and comedy ensue. An American remake, Almost Family, was not well received. A 2022 documentary, Our Father, listed below, addresses a similar scenario, and details the traumas that ensued.]

This is Us, NBC. USA. [A thoughtful, nuanced drama depicting the relationships among three siblings and their other family members, and touching upon issues of gender, race, weight, insecurity, estrangement, and many more.]

TVF Tripling, Developed by Sameer Saxena and produced by Arunabh Kumar. The Viral Fever (TVF) Media Labs. 2016-19. India. [An Indian Hindi-language web-series that follows three siblings who take a road trip to find themselves and deepen their relationships.]

Documentary

Caring for Mom & Dad. Written, produced, and directed by Larkin McPhee. 2015. For PBS by WGBH. USA. [Watch a clip on Siblings Dynamics.]

Found. Directed and produced by Amanda Lipitz. 2021. Amanda Lipitz Productions US and China. [Three girls were adopted from Chinese orphanages by different parents in the US. As teens, they learn that they are cousins through genetic testing, and as they seek out their birth families in China, become family. One of the girls, Sadie, says “I might have been searching for the wrong family. Family are the people who make an effort to be there for you.”]

Our Father. Directed by Lucie Jourdan. 2022, Jason Blum, producer. USA. [Through genetic testing, people discover that they are siblings. Their mothers were all treated by the same fertility doctor, who unethically impregnated many of his patients with his own semen. The siblings come together in trauma, and affirm their shared values and connections. A similarly-themed dramedy, Sisters, is listed under Television.]

Raising Renee. Written, produced, and directed by Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher. 2011. West City Films for HBO. USA. [Artist Beverly McIver promised to care for her sister Renee (who is intellectually disabled) when their mother dies. “Embedded in [the storyline] is an exploration of family relations, race and class in America, and intellectual disability…assumptions [about which] we seek to upend with the complexity of actual life.’]

Tell Me Who I Am. Directed by Ed Perkins. 2019. Netflix. USA. [An excellent documentary illustrating the importance of trust and the power of love between brothers to heal adversity as they reckon with their sexually abusive childhoods.]

The Secret Life of Brothers and Sisters, All 4 (UK). [“The young stars of The Secret Life of… return, and they’ve brought their younger siblings along for a camping holiday.”]

Three Identical Strangers. Directed by Tim Wardle. 2018. CNN Films. USA. [Beneath the jovial and very public reunion of three young men upon discovering that they are triplets, we learn of the horrific psychological experiment that separated them and other identical twins and triplets at birth, with traumatic results.]