SXSW 2023 Review: Kattia G. Zúñiga’s “Sister & Sister” Finds Sweetness in a Prickly Pair

“Everybody says he was a really nice guy,” Marina (Cala Rossel Campos) tells her aunt Maher in “Sister and Sister,” as the two talk about Alonso, (Mir Rodríguez) the father that she and her sister Luna (Ariana Chaves Gavilán) have come to visit. The two are planning a surprise, though others think that may be ill-advised when despite Alonso’s pleasantness, he’s not one to spring something on, unhappy to have his picture taken and not finding the time for his daughters before, instead picking up and moving to Panama to start a new family. Marina and Luna couldn’t know this when he abandoned them when they were young, but they can’t help but be curious, putting aside any potential emotional risk they could be aware of when they’re still excited by the unknown.

In Kattia G. Zúñiga’s lovely sun-soaked coming-of-age drama, there is more than how to approach their father to confound and intrigue the young women, settling into Maher’s house for an extended stay where their cousin Sol welcomes them with open arms to spend time with her and her boyfriend Jose as well as his friend Choma, all of whom like to skate in the local park. Afternoons seem to drift by without much attention paid to the time, but there is more going on than meets the eye when Luna becomes mildly irked that her sister takes an interest in Choma when she knows she has a boyfriend back home and experiences her first period, making it seem as if the two are in competition for sexual experience. When their father has already proved to be such a disappointment, a pursuit of boys their age seems somewhat quixotic, but nonetheless the two carry on unaware of any alternative, having to learn firsthand that men tend to be selfish.

Zuniga appears to be exactly the right age herself to evoke this delicate time yet know major changes in perception often occur in mundane moments, establishing a gently persistent rhythm to the young women’s lives where the risk of asserting themselves with their true wants and desires can feel outweighed by going along to get along, surely not yet fully aware of their power. A game of Never Have I Ever feels genuinely dangerous when the sisters who couldn’t be closer seem like they genuinely have secrets the other doesn’t know and Gavilán and Campos are both magnetic screen presences and forge a dynamic of unspoken love and untold irritation that is enough to drive the drama, though a countdown to how they’ll handle finally meeting their father as adults gives the film a natural climax. While Zúñiga surely has some fun making Marina and Luna a bit uncomfortable with sitting with the unknown, she shows the confidence that it can be satisfying for an audience as “Sister and Sister” becomes a summer that neither the characters on screen or you will never forget.

“Sister & Sister” will screen at SXSW at the Alamo Lamar C on March 13th at 6 pm and March 16th at 5 pm.

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