Set in a one-bedroom apartment in Ljubljana, Half-Sister is a bittersweet portrait of fragmented family relations

8 October 2020

Half-Sister, directed by Damjan Kozole, will be screened on 13 October as part of The Calvert Journal Film Festival: 7 Days of New East Cinema Online. Check out the programme and get your free tickets here.


In a bleak apartment block in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, two sisters pointedly shun each other. One sits on her bed scrolling through her phone, while the other looks at herself attentively in the bathroom mirror. They share a father but little else, and in a twist of fate, have both found themselves living in the same one-bedroom flat. Their relationship is scrutinised in Damjan Kozole’s latest feature film, Half-Sister, an all-too-relatable portrayal of the complexity of family relations.

Irena and Neza might be family, but they are first and foremost lone wolves, seemingly detached young women leading independent lives. Irena is a hairdresser who has decided to leave her husband, the lanky and sulky Brane. Neza is the bullish and outspoken younger sister of Albanian descent, who carries a knife and often gets into fights. As events bring them together, their lives become more intertwined than they had wished for.

Half-Sister is a bittersweet portrait of fragmented family relationships; a simple story about complicated feelings. Kozole’s film shows two people “who hate each other but don’t know why. Like many people in this world.” As Irena’s and Neza’s lives collide through fierce arguments, comically acerbic comments, and half-hearted favours, their family history surfaces, and so do their personal wounds.

In an unexpected twist, it is Irena’s violent ex-husband that brings the sisters closer. After Brane attacks Irena, Neza becomes protective of her. Her street-smart attitude becomes an asset for her older sister, and their animosity transforms into somewhat of a guarded solidarity. “I wanted to show that, in this time, we need solidarity more than ever: solidarity between people, solidarity between women,” says Kozole.

Kozole’s Half-Sister shows two people who hate each other but don’t know why. Like many people in this world.

Beyond this flare-up of sisterhood, layers of family history keep the tension between Irena and Neza alive, intensified by the bad relationships with their parents. Irena’s mother survives on tranquilisers and blames either her daughter or her Albanian rival, Neza’s mother, for all the ills in her life. Father Silvio brought chaos to their lives when he left Irena’s mother to live with an Albanian woman and their illegitimate daughter, Neza. He wants to be supportive of his daughters, but struggles to build a meaningful rapport with them. Through intricate character studies, Kozole’s Half-Sister skillfully displays the tension between family relations and personal identity, a universal struggle between individuality and the context we are born into, with its own local flavour.

Ultimately, Kozole wanted this realistic but caustic depiction of Slovenian society to be a reminder that “there are no simple and unambiguous solutions in life. Sometimes just taking a step forward is a big thing. If two half-sisters start to communicate after 30 years of painful silence — that is pure optimism.”

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