A teenage girl with autism and her sister try to come to terms with their grief after the death of their younger sister. Directed by Rosie Westhoff, written by Josephine Brown and Bradley Wilson, with Achanti Palmer and Lauren Corah.
In her fifth short film, director Rosie Westhoff has not given herself an easy task, exploring grief in all its complexity with the added layer of seeing it through the eyes of someone with autism, and to take all this on in the space of a 14-minute film; a daunting task that Westhoff makes look easy. Right off the bat there’s a thick air of emotion coming off the film, you can feel the deeper issues at work immediately bouncing off the screen. Our Sister handles grief from a more refreshing perspective, it’s not outright but it also isn’t overly subtle, it gives you something that’s both serene and melancholy, the sorrow is rife in its silence.
Of course, this doesn’t just come from the direction, the lead performances by Achanti Palmer and Lauren Corah are perfect portrayals of trying to hold it together on the outside but being broken on the inside. The two of them act well off each other, their sisterly bond is convincing and captivating to watch, while it could be argued that Palmer has the slightly more complex job, they both have layers to their characters that they have to get across with very little dialogue, and both achieve. Every aspect handles the fact that one of the lead characters is autistic in a way that’s respectful and representative, it shows the real struggle for someone with the disorder to deal with something as difficult as the death of a sibling. It shows the real give and take of the relationship between the two sisters and how, although it may have moments that require more patience or understanding, it’s universal.
You may recognise the actor who briefly appears as the dance teacher, John McCrea who originated the role of Jamie New in the musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, currently being adapted to the screen, which McCrea is confirmed to cameo in.
With the majority of the film taking place outdoors, there’s a nice variety of shots to show everything that the location choices have to offer, while retaining the film’s intimacy. The choices of direction and cinematography very clearly represent what the film is trying to say, there’s no quick edits or flashbacks or anything to cheapen its intentions, it’s handled delicately and gracefully.
Westhoff had a lot to live up to after her previous short film, the extremely charming and refreshing Treacle, and she may have picked an utterly different project to follow up with but she’s achieved something just as beguiling. Our Sister is strong and serene, packing a mountain of grief and love into a few minutes with few words.