Dir/scr. AlexandraLeclere. Fr. 2004. 93mins.

A vehicle for theconsiderable thespian prowess of Isabelle Huppert, film-maker Alexandra Lecleremakes an effective debut with Les Soeurs Fachees, a family drama thatshould play well in mainstream Francophone markets.

The traditional French feeland the cast attraction of Huppert (enjoying a higher profile of late through IHeart Huckabee's) should help introduce it in appropriate overseas marketswhere it is likely to play passably, given it is a modest, intimate productiontargeted at older audiences. Remake potential for the feature, which opens inFrance on Dec 22, is strong.

Martine (Huppert), is adried-up, spiteful, richly married snobbish Parisian socialite, while hersister Martine (Frot) is an ebullient, hearty but hopelessly insecurebeautician from Le Mans.

The plot covers a three-dayencounter between the two, during which Martine's vague annoyance with hersister's visit to Paris quickly degenerates.

In the process she makes amyriad of haughty, snide and insulting remarks, expressing her impatience withLouise's provincial blunderings, her unfaltering talent to say and do the wrongthings at the wrong time, and worst of all, her displays of affection and trustthat Martine herself has lost the ability to express or connect with.

That plump andunsophisticated Louise is in town to meet a well known publisher for her novelseems an impossible aberration to Martine, who wouldn't lift a finger to helpher embarrassingly cheerful sister along.

By the end of it all Martinehas driven away all those around her and has to come to terms with an existencethat is as empty as it is useless and depressing.

Closely observing the clashbetween two sisters, Leclere misses none of the classic stereotypes of the genre,pushing the two main characters into opposite directions.

Gradually she shifts fromlight irony to darker tones, before wrapping it all up with a conciliatorynotice that relieves some of the bitter aftertaste left by the final scenes.

Though screen time is prettyevenly distributed between the two actresses, this is first and foremost ashowcase for Huppert who here is pretty much at her best.

In a finely tuned, preciseperformance, her perfectly controlled facial expressions are a wonder to watch,as the minutest details turn Martine into a thoroughly glacial, unpleasantmonster who can't stand her husband, her child, her sister and ultimately herown life.

Beneath it all lies a fearthat she will become like her mother, an alcoholic who brutally abandoned herdaughters and turned her back on them. Bitter, resentful and angry, the rareoccasions when chinks in Martine's armour are revealed come too late or too farapart to elicit any kind of sympathy.

In contrast, Frot'sinterpretation of Louise tends at times to go over the top in its sheerenthusiasm. She is the kind of extrovert who steps on painful toes with thebest intentions, who never stops talking to hide her lack of confidence inherself; in short a likeable, if at times rather wearing, type.

Francois Berleand andBrigitte Catillon, as Martine's husband and best friend, respectively, lend ahelping hand though really never emerge from the background.

Leclere, who obviously doesnot believe in half tones, ambivalence and understatements, tells her story ina straightforward, efficient manner.

She is well served by apolished technical crew, though her excessive reliance on Philippe Sarde'smusic and a travelogue sequence in Paris, once obligatory for French movies,seems rather out of place. But Huppert, as frail as she may look, has all thesteely energy needed to carry the show on her shoulders.

Prod co: Pan-Europeene Productions, Studio Canal, France 2Cinema
Fr dist:
Int'l sales: Pan-Europeene Productions
Philippe Godeau
Michel Amathieu
Herve de Luze, JacquelineMariani
Prod des:
Carlos Conti
Philippe Sarde
Main cast:
Isabelle Huppert,Catherine Frot, Fancois Berleand, Brigitte Catillon, Michel Vuillermoz,Christiane Millet, Antoine Beaufils