Don't Mess With My Sister! [DVD]
Screenplay : Meir Zarchi
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1985
Stars : Joe Perce (Steven), Jeannine Lemay (Clara), Jack Gurci (Roberto), Peter Sapienza (Dino), Laura Lanfranchi (Annika), Kit Bard (Ann), Roy Miller (Jerry), Helen Perle (Mama Minote), Janice Derosa (Aunt Regina), Pam La Testa (Clara's Mother)
Writer/director Meir Zarchi has made two films in his lifetime. The first, 1978's I Spit On Your Grave (aka, Day of the Woman), is one of the most notorious exploitation films of all time. It became a phenomenon on video because of the amount of vitriol and condemnation that was poured on it by most critics who found it morally repulsive. I had a similar reaction to the film the first time I saw, which is born out in the review I wrote. However, on a second viewing, I began to see some of the alternate readings offered by those like Carol Clover, who does not explicitly defend the film, but notes that trying to pin down its politics--in other words, what it really says about rape and revenge--is more difficult than it first appears.
While I Spit On Your Grave continues to divide audiences as it shocks and outrages, Zarchi's other film, 1985's Don't Mess With My Sister!, has been mostly forgotten. Despite the lurid title and the emphasis in the advertising on Zarchi's nefarious first movie, his sophomore effort is a wholly different affair. It seems that Zarchi aimed for restraint while making a semi-exploitative family drama about infidelity in a combative Italian-American family. Unfortunately, Don't Mess With My Sister! is as boring as I Spit On Your Grave was shocking, proving that Zarchi is a generally inept filmmaker no matter which way he goes.
The movie straddles an uneasy line, and appears to be an attempt by Zarchi to make a "serious" drama. The problem is that Zarchi is still a exploitation director at heart, so the movie fails to satisfy anyone because it is neither fully "serious" nor fully "exploitation." If serious film goers can get past the ridiculous B-movie title (in England it was released under the more austere title Family and Honor), they will find themselves faced with a badly paced, poorly written movie with bad acting and a meandering plotline. Exploitation fans, perhaps enticed by the title, will find themselves faced with a dull "revenge thriller" that contains almost no sex and gore. One wonders who Zarchi thought his audience would be.
The main character is Steven (Joe Perce), who married Clara (Jeannine Lemay) under the assumption that Clara's two brothers, Roberto (Jack Gurci) and Dino (Peter Sapienza), would make him a partner in their family's junkyard business. A year and a half later, Steven is two days away from becoming a certified accountant, and all Roberto and Dino have offered him is a $40-a-week raise.
Irritated about the broken promise of partnership and stuck in a marriage that he entered for monetary purposes, Steven has an affair with a belly dancer named Annika (Laura Lanfranchi). Their relationship is intensified by the fact that Steven saves Annika from possible rape by a perverted millionaire, but in the process they both kill the man. It would seem that this would be a major plot thread, but Zarchi essentially drops it in favor of focusing on what happens with Clara finds out about the affair. Essentially, she loses it and gets Roberto and Dino to act as her agents of revenge on Steven. Unfortunately, this amounts following Steven around, beating him up a couple of times, and trashing Annika's apartment. The plot then culminates in a vague climax at the junkyard, and ends on an ambiguous note that neither satisfies nor stimulates further thought. It's like the movie simply ran out of film.
Zarchi's higher ambitions are evident in his attempts at character building. He shows Steven in a variety of settings to build his character as a frustrated man whose dreams are slowly being crushed. Zarchi focuses on familial tensions between Steven's and Clara's respective families, as well as the general mistrust between Steven and Roberto and Dino.
Yet, much like I Spit On Your Grave, Zarchi is maddeningly lax in terms of his characters' moral compasses, which reflects badly on his own. Don't Mess With My Sister! does not offer a single character worthy of audience identification. The first-person nature of the title seems to suggest that we should view the film from Roberto and Dino's point of view (of course, if that's true, shouldn't it be our sister?), but they are too thuggish and one-dimensional to like. Steven is the most obvious point of identification, but he is a truly unlikable character, as well. Even though we are meant to sympathize with his broken dreams, how can we possibly stand by a character who marries and has a child in exchange for a partnership in a junkyard?
Even though Clara would seem to be the victim in all of this, Jeannine Lemay's hysterical performance makes her into a truly grating character. The only character left is Annika, and she is so poorly developed that we are never sure what to think of her (perhaps she is meant to be mysterious, but Zarchi seems to confuse mystery with confusion).
All of this would be moot if Don't Mess With My Sister! offered anything in the way of entertainment value. Quite the opposite, Zarchi makes 85 minutes feel like eight hours as he moves clumsily from scene to scene, using painfully obvious dialogue to move the proceedings along. Even when he's not trying to shock, Zarchi shows that he has no finesse; he's the director's equivalent of wooden acting. There's no style and there's certainly no humor. Don't Mess With My Sister! may hold some interest value for those who are curious about what the director of I Spit On Your Grave did for an encore, but even they will likely find themselves sorely disappointed.
|Don't Mess With My Sister! DVD|
|Supplements|| 10 minutes of deleted footage|
Original theatrical trailer
|Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), the image quality of Don't Mess With My Sister! is generally pretty good. Cinematographer Phil Gries doesn't have much flare (it looks like a made-for-TV movie), but the new transfer has made the movie look as good as it probably can. A clean print was used, as there are almost no instances of dirt, debris, or scratches. Colors look good, as do fleshtones, and black levels are mostly solid, although a few of the night scenes betray some graininess. The image is mostly sharp with good detail, although there are a few sequences that come off as too soft. Overall, it looks very good for a nearly forgotten B-movie.|
|While the monaural soundtrack is nothing exciting, it gets the job done. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, and some of the music has a decent amount of depth to it. There isn't much action in the movie, so sound effects are only rarely employed. The soundtrack does sound clean, though, with no hiss or distortion.|
|The disc includes roughly 10 minutes of additional footage that was edited out of the theatrical release, presumably to shorten the running time to less than 90 minutes. There are seven scenes included (all in full-frame), only one of which constitutes an additional scene in and of itself; the rest are merely longer versions of scenes already included in the movie, and simply expand some of the conversations. The disc also includes the original theatrical trailer, which despite being presented in anamorphic widescreen, is soft and very grainy.|
©2000 James Kendrick