Three sisters is all about, you guessed it, three sisters. They are aged four, six and ten years old and live a hard life in a remote area of a rural Chinese province. Director Bing Wang and his (small) crew filmed these young girls and their lives over an extended period of time and the result is this documentary that will test the patience of many, running for just over two and a half hours.
I admit that during the opening scenes I was torn between enjoying some of the antics onscreen and worrying about the fact that I had a LONG way to go until the end credits rolled. Wang doesn’t make the viewing experience easy. These people live in harsh and uncomfortable conditions and if that’s been caught on film for a decent length of time then audiences used to far easier lifestyles should be able to invest a portion of their day to gain an appreciation of how others live.
And how do these young girls live? It’s a daily grind, they are often left to their own devices in terms of both play and helping out with the chores (herding animals downhill and back up, making fires, looking after clothing and dirt-encrusted footwear, etc.). The eldest girl often checks over the youngest to help find lice and deal with them, baths are rare indeed and the only time that they are in the company of adults comes when food is being served. The food doesn’t look like the most appetising in the world, but I’m sure that it’s greatly appreciated by the hungry bellies of these little workers.
Not a film to recommend to anyone seeking their next fix of non-stop action, Three Sisters is more like a documentary equivalent of The Turin Horse, without being quite as bleak in tone. The girls often have to go through the same routine, but manage to do so with the exuberance and playfulness of the young. The only time that sadness really starts to set in is when the father decides to try his luck in the city, taking the two younger children with him and leaving the eldest with her grandfather, continuing to help with the chores while also trying to study and do well at school.
Although this is very different from Leviathan, it’s an equally impressive experience. Whereas that film was wet and slimy and salty, this is dry and coarse and will, at times, make you itch. As the end credits rolled I realised that I’d been almost completely won over.
DIRECTOR: BING WANG
RUNTIME: 153 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: FRANCE/HONG KONG