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2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film
Irreversible

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Sunday, May 19, 2002
 
Murderous Maids (in theaters) and Sister My Sister (on video) both tell the story of the Papin sisters, two sisters who murdered their employer and her daughter in Le Mans in 1933. Both films tell the story of an inexplicable event in a relatively straightforward fashion (which was a good idea), so that some degree of frustration is inherent in viewing either film. While both movies have their virtues, Murderous Maids is the better film, partly because its scope is broader and partly because Sylvie Testud's portrayal of Christine is far more complex and nuanced than Joely Richardson's. (Plot points follow, but nothing is really a spoiler.) Sister My Sister is temporally restricted to the sister's last employment, with occasional flashbacks. I liked the idea of presenting the sisters' childhood in flashback more than the chronological treatment of Murderous Maids, but the flashbacks in Sister My Sister were so elliptical they could easily have been omitted. Also, in Sister, it is clear that Christine hates her mother, but we never see her interact with her mother, as we do in Maids. Even in Maids, however, Christine's hatred for her mother, like her obsession with her sister, seems grossly disproportionate and we suspect that there was some childhood trauma that never came to light. Sexual abuse ranks high on the list of probabilities. At one point, her mother tells Christine that her father raped her other sister, who has become a nun, but the possibility exists that the mother is lying. By following her from childhood through successive employers, Maids does a better job of depicting Christine's gradual deterioration. While all were unkind to varying degrees and possessed of the class prejudices of their times, none of the employers in Maids is depicted as an absolute monster (another variance from Sisters, in which Julie Walters' portrayal of the murdered woman borders on caricature). The social isolation, lack of privacy and dehumanization associated with domestic service is much more effectively and realistically conveyed in Maids.

Both films seem to strive for authenticity and avoid filling in the gaps of the story. Without explicityly offering any explanations, Maids provides much more fodder for an amateur psychologist to work with, but nothing in the sisters' history seems a sufficient cause for the extraordinarily brutal murder. Even though Maids spends more time on the sisters' childhood, it still seems like there must be much more to the story than is known. Maids also graphically shows Christine's descent into utter madness, leaving little doubt that there was some organic component to her mental illness.

Although on the whole, I liked Maids better, there were parts of Sister that I preferred. The beginning and end of Sister is more atmospheric and I liked that. Also, both films linger occasionally on a professionally made photograph of the two sisters, but Sister shows the photo being made. It was a very good scene. Sister also sets up a parallel dynamic between the two pairs of women -- the mother and daughter murder victims and the incestuous sister murderers -- that was very interesting.

This is the third powerful character study of a person on the brink, dominated by an extraordinary central performance, that I've seen this year. The other two were The Believer and Time Out.