‘The Silent Twins’ Review: A Clever Movie From a Notorious Sisterhood
Describing the ineffable but so real bond between the sisters – or any brother and sister – is not easy. Kudos to Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska, whose artful and ambitious exploration of Jennifer and June Gibbons’ perverse sisterhood, The Silent Twins (opening September 16), powerfully portrays the recognizable and universal aspects of a singularly notorious relationship.
Born in 1963, the actual identical twins were the children of a couple from Barbados who emigrated to England. The only black children in sight (along with their siblings), June and Jennifer created a language and retreated into a world of their own design. By 1974, when the family moved to Wales, the twins had stopped speaking in public and responding to their teachers, directors or psychologists.
June and Jennifer, like many sisters, formed a bond and a pact that no one else was aware of. Then they went further, making an unhealthy contract that locked them in their own embrace and eliminated outside influences. It would be simplistic to say that The Silent Twins is the saga of a love-hate relationship, but the hot coals of family tension – between need and resentment, and autonomy and inseparability – fuel both the drama and its haunting aftermath.
An important facet of June and Jennifer’s relationship—which Smoczynska, making her English debut, exploits for her innocence, beauty, and wit—was their creativity, which showed in their writing and drawing. deployed in The Silent Twins as wacky animated scenes and lush fantasy sequences, they provide an antidote to the palette of dark blues and purples the filmmaker uses to portray both the uninspiring British institutions of the 70s and the perpetually underlit bedroom that served studio to the sisters. , cloister, refuge and battlefield.
Whether The Silent Twins cannot fully explain the source or cause of the sisters’ extreme alienation – pervasive racism, inflexible academicians, feeling like perpetual strangers – he has an unshakable grip on the volatile dynamics of sibling rivalry (potentially even more acute with identical twins). A commitment to co-dependency and cooperation can evaporate in the blink of an eye in a fury of competition, as one pivotal scene illustrates.
June asks Jennifer for a loan to self-publish a book of her work. Jennifer is stunned, perhaps in part by the fact that her sister is ahead of her creatively, but mostly by the act of individual expression and ambition. It’s kind of a betrayal, even though June promises to pay her back when Jennifer is ready to do the same. (The book arrives a little later, in a room they share in a rather different location, and Jennifer disrupts June’s fun by turning on the radio, sparking one of the fierce fights that dot the film.)