SXSW FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! The coming-of-age drama Sister & Sister (Las Hingas) is the very personal story of Kattia G. Zúñiga. The writer and director fictionalizes a special trip she took with her sister to meet their estranged father. But, this coming-of-age drama is more than this simple narrative as Zúñiga has every foible of being a teen come together on this single trip.
The sisters are 17-year-old Marina (Ariana Chaves Gavilán) and 14-year-old Luna (Cala Rossel Campos). The two are on their own, traveling from their home in Costa Rica to Panama in hopes of tracking down their absent father, who doesn’t necessarily want to be found. With their mother’s blessing, Marina and Luna stay in Panama at their mother’s friend’s house with her daughters, the teen Sol (Gabriela Man) and her little sister. Fortunately for the pair, Marina and Luna quickly become fast friends with Sol and her circle.
Though Sister & Sister is the story of Marina and Luna looking for their father, much of the time is spent contemplating teenhood. Yes, it takes place in Panama, but the film shows that the journey from adolescence to adulthood is not that different around the world. Though they’re only three years apart, the difference in maturity is vast. Marina is already pairing off with boys, sneaking off at night for cigarettes and doing very adult things.
On the other hand, Luna is just coming into her own. She works hard but struggles to make friends like Marina. Her attempts include hanging with Sol’s friends, learning dance moves, and experiencing her first crush… and kiss, But she is still perceived as the kid in the group, which enflames jealousy toward Marina. Lastly, there’s the emotional baggage regarding their father, who doesn’t seem like he wants to be found.
“…traveling from their home in Costa Rica to Panama in hopes of tracking down their absent father…”
What’s great about Sister & Sister is that it’s an authentic coming-of-age story of two teens born and raised in Central America. But ironically, what’s wonderful about the movie is also its most significant detriment, as it may not appeal to anyone uninterested in the subject matter. The story succeeds, but its audience appeal is narrow.
That aside, the drama works because of lead actors Gavilán and Campos. I am raising a teen and have worked with teens for years, so I know that these two are great. And that’s because, unlike most other films about teens, these actresses are acting their’ ages and have not gone through the Disney Channel school of acting. It’s not hard to believe they are 17 and 14 years old. Gavilán and Campos are so grounded, and Zúñiga wisely refuses to allow them to “heighten” their performances for the sake of being movie “dramatic.”
You could not make Sister & Sister in the United States. By placing the story over twenty years ago in Panama, Zúñiga is able to strip away social media and the modern conveniences of being an American to focus on these girls living as teens. This is as far from Fast Times at Ridgemont High as you can get. The movie is amazing in depicting teens simply hanging out and the dynamic that occurs in these circles. Keeping the story grounded allows us to empathize with their characters and relive not just the sexual confusion teens go through today but social challenges as well.
If you’ve read enough of my reviews, you know I am drawn to human narratives. We’re all trying to make it from one day to the next. I’m enticed by stories like Sister & Sister because it’s deeply personal for Zúñiga. The filmmaker has insightful things to say about this stage in life, and I believe you will find it fascinating as well.
Sister & Sister (Las Hingas) screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.
"…has insightful things to say..."