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CANNES 2024 Directors’ Fortnight

Review: Sister Midnight


- CANNES 2024: The feature debut by London-based writer-director Karan Kandhari presents marital roles through slapstick and horror-comedy tropes

Review: Sister Midnight
Radhika Apte in Sister Midnight

No one teaches you how to become an adult, a husband or a wife. Uma (Radhika Apte) is self-sufficient enough to know so on the train journey that takes her from her small-town home to Mumbai and her arranged marriage to Gopal (Ashok Patak), but life is unpredictable like that. The next day, they wake up in new social roles to awkward and comedic results: she doesn’t know the first thing about cooking, and he makes a run for it every time they touch. London-based Indian director Karan Kandhari has debuted his first feature, Sister Midnight [+see also:
interview: Karan Kandhari
film profile
, in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes as a paean to outcasts everywhere, but it’s a film that spreads itself too thin between comedy and horror.

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The first half of the movie does a great job of establishing the characters and their sensibilities, a testament to the writer-director’s clear vision of who and what his protagonists are. Uma is plucky and ill-tempered, her patience runs thin when it comes to domestic duties, and in a rather childish way, she’d prefer it if the world were to conform to her, instead of it being the other way around. In a certain manner, her character is self-contradicting – both radically feminist and infantile – but these conflicting energies light up Apte’s physical performance, especially in the film’s third act, when she undergoes a transformation. The award-winning thesp (Tribeca Best Actress for Madly) leads Sister Midnight with flair, while her commitment to Uma feels like one of a partner in crime. Gopal is her counterpoint, quiet and hilariously avoidant. Together, they riff off each, making a great screwball duo without the sexual tension.

Sister Midnight has a third main character, and that is Mumbai: its heat, its buzz, the nosiness of neighbours, and the thin walls of Uma and Gopal’s tiny shack of a home may not offer a lot of respite for a restless young woman, but the allure is there. Sverre Sørdal’s camera captures the city’s changing face through day and night in long, beautifully arranged shots that have the feel of a love letter. As for the film’s tonal and narrative consistency, it’s safe to say that Kandhari is equally good at delivering snappy comedic scenes and humorous horror, but never at the same time.

As Uma dips in and out of her marital duties (from initiating intimacy to finding a nighttime cleaner’s job on the other side of town), Sister Midnight gradually loses its edge. Perhaps there are way too many allegories to keep the feature grounded and one too many plot twists diverting one’s attention from Uma’s transition into adulthood. Still, she lives on her own terms, and that makes Sister Midnight an exciting watch. It’s always messy, and never dull, accompanying an unruly woman on her (very convoluted) path towards self-realisation.

Sister Midnight is a UK-Indian-Swedish co-production through Wellington Films, Griffin Pictures, Filmgate Films and Suitable Pictures. Protagonist Pictures handles its world sales.

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