AJFF What to Watch: Films About Siblings


There's nothing like a sibling to help to bring things into focus. From the mundane to the absurd, to full-on crises, these films spotlight sibling bonds. All are films that have formerly been featured at AJFF's annual festival. Film titles are linked with information on where to watch.

Dirty Wolves
Two sisters from a Nazi-controlled mining village in northwestern Spain are drawn into wartime intrigue in this briskly paced thriller-melodrama imbued with supernatural notes. Intent on harvesting the rare metal to feed the Third Reich's war machine, a Nazi brigade has captured the tungsten mine in the remote mountains of Galicia. Amid grinding poverty and illness, unwed Manuela (Marian Álvarez) does what she can to resist, smuggling small quantities of the mineral to Allied agents, while pretending to court the operation's tyrannical German commander Franz (Pierre Kiwitt). Her sister Candela (Manuela Velles) also imperils herself by helping Jewish refugees escape across the border to Portugal. Their dangerous duplicity culminates in a dramatic climax, as the miners plan a revolt against Nazi and Franco forces, while the sisters must choose between survival and their sense of justice. Inspired by a little-known chapter of WWII history, the film captures the local folklore and visual splendor of rural Spain, under the direction of Simón Casal de Miguel. Featured at the 2017 AJFF.

Horses of God
Examining the roots of Islamic extremism with chilling impact, this drama fictionalizes events leading to a 2003 Casablanca terrorist plot carried out by street kids-turned-suicide bombers. Over the span of 10 years, the film deconstructs the fate of sensitive Yachine (Abdelhakim Rachid), from troubled childhood to martyrdom. Incubated in a toxic shantytown of crushing poverty, rampant violence and sexual frustration, the siblings and their friends are left to fend for themselves. Arrested by corrupt police, older brother Hamid emerges from jail years later as a committed follower of Islamic fundamentalism, whose lure and influence have grown in the wake of 9/11. Slowly, the boys are seduced by the anti-Zionist rhetoric of fanatical clerics, inexorably leading to the deadliest act of terrorism in Morocco's history, targeting restaurants and Jewish institutions. From the seeds of despair to the heart-pounding climax, director Nabil Ayouch's deeply moving film has been lauded for the brutal realism with which it portrays the wasted lives of a jihadist breeding ground. Adapted from a novel by Mahi Binebine. Featured at the 2015 AJFF.

In this visually spellbinding, acclaimed coming-of-age story, a bewildered German teen is suddenly confronted with the harsh realities of survival and adulthood in the grim final days of the Third Reich. Left to fend for themselves after their Nazi parents are imprisoned, Lore (a standout debut by Saskia Rosendahl) and her siblings seek refuge with their grandmother in Hamburg. Along the journey, the children are exposed to the consequences of Nazism and meet a young Jewish survivor (Kai Malina), prompting them to question their anti-Semitic indoctrination. This lyrical and intense adaptation of a Rachel Seiffert novel is directed by Cate Shortland. Featured at the 2013 AJFF.

Past Life
Two Israeli sisters unravel the shocking truth about their father's murky wartime experiences in this hybrid detective thriller and heart-tugging melodrama by award-winning filmmaker Avi Nesher. Set in the late 1970s, the film centers on the daughters of Holocaust survivors, combative liberal journalist Nana (Nelly Tagar) and her young sister Stephi (Joy Rieger), a soprano and aspiring composer. After a performance in West Berlin, Stephi is accosted by an elderly Polish woman who angrily accuses her father of murder. Traumatized by the startling encounter, the sisters launch an investigation, attempting to discover what really happened to their father (Doron Tavory) in Poland during the war. As guilty secrets and troubling revelations are dredged up, the drama boldly charts dangerous emotional territory, still very much part of the Israeli collective subconscious. Writer-director Avi Nesher, himself the son of Holocaust survivors, based his screenplay on actual events chronicled in Can Heaven Be Void?, the wartime diaries of Dr. Baruch Milch. The film's polished period details, rich-hued cinematography and handsome production design are further served by a hauntingly beautiful musical soundtrack. Featured at the 2017 AJFF.

Peep World
An all-star cast gives new meaning to dysfunctional Jewish families, in this wickedly funny narrative. On the occasion of a 70th birthday party for the patriarch (Ron Rifkin), a nasty Los Angeles real estate mogul, four squabbling siblings plan to reunite. Looming over the proceedings, the youngest of the Meyerwitz clan, Nathan (Ben Schwartz) has just published an unflattering exposé about the family's most intimate and shameful secrets, leading sister Cheri (Sarah Silverman) to sue him for libel. As the beleaguered family gathers around the dinner table, recriminations, revelations and a liberal dose of colorful language ensue. Buoyed by the briskly paced direction of former Farrelly brothers screenwriter Barry Blaustein, the film's talented ensemble includes Michael C. Hall (Showtime's Dexter), Rainn Wilson (The Office), Kate Mara (Iron Man II), and Academy Award nominees Lesley Ann Warren and Taraji P. Henson. Lewis Black provides the voiceover narration. Featured at the 2011 AJFF.

From the producers of Europa Europa comes this universal tale of musical prodigies whose friendship overcomes barriers of religion and nationality despite the onset of war. Jewish siblings Larissa and Abrascha are violin virtuosos. Hanna, a young German girl, is also extremely gifted. Living in the small Ukrainian town of Poltava in 1941, they are united by a passion for music. When the Nazis invade, the children’s Jewish and German families must save each other from the forces of both fascism and Communism. Real-life musicians Elin Kolev and Mathilda Adamik, along with child actor Imogen Burrell, give endearing performances in this rare and mesmerizing Holocaust drama told from a child’s point of view. Featured at the 2012 AJFF.