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Cowboy Poetry: How ‘The Sisters Brothers’ Reimagines the Western

"'The Sisters Brothers' is a difficult film to talk about because of how fully Audiard embraces the paradoxes of the old West."

“The Sisters Brothers is a sensitive western about brotherly love that just happens to revolve around stone-cold murderers,” explains Eric Kohn. “It’s a context that requires an original approach to the genre, and that’s exactly what French director Jacques Audiard brings to his first English-language effort.”

Todd McCarthy says, “As are many classic Westerns, this is a tale of pursuit and patience involving a long journey and threats known and unknown. There will also be blood, of course, vast changes of fortune and the decisive matters of chance, daring and luck.

The Sisters Brothers possesses all of the above, in addition to the curiosity of a filmmaker who has clearly taken great relish in exploring a country that is both familiar (via countless movies) and now quite distant.

“For the genre faithful, it’s almost always rewarding to see the classic form being tackled by an interested outsider.” To read the full article, click here.

“The western for an American director is really a foundational text,” Audiard tells Marshall Shaffer. “For me, no, it isn’t. The western is just a period piece for me. Men wearing hats, guns, riding horses. In that sense, my approach is different. Within the mythology, there’s a landscape of space. I don’t share that mythology, so I don’t [focus on] the [literal] landscape. I pay much more attention to dialogue between the characters. For me, the dialogue and the characters are the landscape.” To read the full interview, click here.

“In this day and age what is a western, exactly?” muses the director. “We can identify two camps. There are ones that are classically made like Appaloosa and Open Range that carry reverence for archetypes, landscapes, etc. The other way is Quentin Tarantino’s approach: irony, more contemporary ultra-violence. For The Sisters Brothers it seems to me that we went a third route: quieting down the western.”

“I feel very free with the mythology,” Audiard continues. “There are things that I really like and are fun for me inside the conventions when I look at them. But in the morning when we start working, we don’t say to ourselves, ‘Let’s do a very original western!’ Very often in the western there’s something missing about the characters. It’s black or white. They don’t have dreams or a conscience. When you locate that humanity inside the characters, then something changes, and they exist in a different way.” To read the full article, click here.

“Audiard lets The Sisters Brothers unfold like a dream,” says Chris Evangelista. “One of the film’s most fascinating factors is the way it avoids over-explaining (or really just explaining) things. Everything here feels like it subscribes to dream logic, rather than the logic of the waking world. 

“The Sisters Brothers ride their horses slowly across a beach littered with debris—a dresser, a desk, some chairs, all of it unremarked upon. Eli wakes one morning to find a giant bear dead in the spot where the brothers made camp the previous night. The duo rest up at an inn where a horde of men in animal skins stomp around wildly in circle, like some sort of pagan ritual.” 

To achieve the film’s visuals, Audiard sought out cinematographer Benoît Debie for the project. “Benoît first and
foremost wanted to shoot in 35mm,” Audiard recalls. “He’s one of the few cinematographers today who
seeks to impart color into an image, rather than the de-saturated, blue-dominated look
that’s become the standard with digital.

“What came about is a palette that’s dark, but when there is light it is very colorful —
sometimes even outside. We kept in mind ‘tin pans,’ those daguerrotypes done on
metal plates in the 19th century, enhanced by red velvet or green or—appropriately
enough — gold.”

“Jacques and I had so much to discuss about the film, and influences ranging from comics panels to western movies,” Debie recalls. “[Production designer] Michel Barthélémy and I talked about what the palette of colors would be, both indoors and outside. Jacques felt it was important to have color, but not too intense.”

The Sisters Brothers is a difficult film to talk about because of how fully Audiard embraces the paradoxes of the old West,” says Kambole Campbell. “It’s a bloody, violent film about the want to escape bloody violence. 

“The film constantly zigs and zags away from convention, eventually culminating in a delightfully bizarre anti-climax, and it becomes crystal clear that the film has no interest in vendettas, stand-offs or blazes of glory. The ultimate goal of the film is to heal, something that can’t be achieved via the barrel of a gun.” To read the full article, click here.