Sister & Sister (Las hijas), the debut feature by Panamanian-Costa Rican writer-director Kattia G. Zúñiga, had its world premiere in the Global section in March during the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival in Austin, Texas. There were four SXSW screenings available for viewing during the festival. Filmmaker Zunigo wrote the semi-autobiographical story of the short films. It’s Cecilia (2012) and Things That Don’t Break (2017). She has several producing credits, including Alejo Crisóstomo’s Nina and Laura, in which she starred. Crisóstomo serves as the Director of photography in this feature. The story that begins with a trip by two minor sisters from Costa Rica who take a trip to Panama to find their absent father turns out to be a portrayal of teenage life as the two learn from others and each other.

This tale of sisterhood during summer sees the love and push and pull between sisters 17-year-old Marina (Cala Rossel Campos) and 14-year-old Luna (Ariana Chaves Gavilán). In Panama, they stay with a mother’s friend while they locate their father and wait for a response. In the interim, the teen kids in the home, Sol (Gabriela Man) and León (Joshua De León), waste no time helping the girls acquaint themselves with their social world.

The story is good, but it does have the predictability of the coming-of-age stories. Marina is very aware of her attractiveness and is readily prepared to learn more about a slightly older skateboarder, Choma (Fernando Bonilla), who has a girlfriend. She wants to explore having an orgasm, and Choma is not turning down the offer whenever they are alone. The story covers the daily activities of each day for the girls and this family. At times, it does feel a bit slow, but nothing in Panama seems to be in a hurry – most especially the lack of response from the absent father.

The cast features a diverse range of Latinos with different skin tones and hair color/texture. One scene shows an immigration officer asking about their trip, their age, etc., and when they state they are sisters, he does not fail to note that they do not look alike (complexion/hair color, etc.). When in Panama, we see Sol’s group of friends, including Afro-Latinos. Among the additional cast are Joshua De León (León) and young Lía Jiménez (Juli). All the actors excel as authentic young teens in the more mature sexually related scenes. I am impressed that although there are scenes of sexuality, the cinematography is tastefully done without being graphic.

Alejo Crisóstomo’s cinematography captures shots of the beautiful greenery and life in the full sun of the beach, the pools, skateboarding, and parks. Closeups of Marina and Luna fully capture their emotions, both happiness, and frustration, without a word said at times.

Sister & Sister is edited by Andrea Chignoli (The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future, having the North American theatrical release in May after the Sundance, San Francisco, Seattle, and Frameline film festivals). Original music is by: Michelle Blades, with additional music by Samira Esmail Filos – SAME, Joaquín Pardo Gallardo – Diamante, Las Robertas, Lurys Rivera, La Voz Nativa, Las Tropigóticas, LOUJAY, Squiz Nine y Pash. The film is in Spanish with English subtitles. 80 min.

Source: SXSW, Pluto Film, Ceibita Films, Mente Pública ###

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