SXSW’s “Sister & Sister” Captures the Loneliness of Teenage Years

Sister & Sister

South Texas summers, hazy and full of unforgivably hot days were the most formative parts of my teenage life. My friends and I were all home from school, often left to our own devices to hang out at the mall, go over to each others’ houses, or basically do anything to escape the heat that seeped into everything. It was some of the only time we had without parents or school interfering, free to explore the world outside of what adults had imagined for us, even if that just meant seeing weird movies together or awkwardly testing the waters of desire. I was instantly transported to these aimless, sweltering summers by Sister & Sister (or Las Hijas), the debut feature from Kattia G. Zúñiga at South by Southwest 2023

Sister & Sister revolves around Marina and Luna (Cala Rossel Campos and Ariana Chaves Gavilán respectively), who take a trip from Costa Rica to Panama one summer to meet the dad they’ve never known. During this trip, the girls stay with a family friend and eventually befriend the other teens in the house and neighborhood. While they wait for their father to return their calls so they can finally meet again, they discover the simple delights and unique dramas of hanging out in the Panamanian heat. Along the way, there’s a healthy amount of sibling jealousy, quietly heartbreaking moments, and an empathetic depiction of isolation that’s familiar to anyone who’s ever been a teenager.

Marina is played wonderfully by Campos, who imbues her with a mix of confidence and self-doubt that can only co-exist in a teenager. The older of the two girls, she is extroverted and playful, with dreams of becoming an airplane pilot. Luna, the younger and quieter of the sisters, is a self-declared yogi (and vegan) who is just starting to come into her own teenage desires. Gavilán’s performance as Luna is spellbinding and deeply empathetic, showcasing Luna’s loneliness under her calm and unassuming exterior. 

Sister & Sister director Kattia G. Zúñiga, image courtesy of Esteban Chinchilla
Sister & Sister director Kattia G. Zúñiga, image courtesy of Esteban Chinchilla

Although my summers were different from Marina and Luna’s, there is one crucial aspect of it that mirrors my own: teenage loneliness. Throughout my winding summers, where the sounds of white-winged doves and grackles floated in the heat and strawberry raspas stained my tongue red, the ever-present current of yearning felt heightened. I didn’t have the language then to express my deep desire to simply belong, to feel brave enough to reach out beyond my friend group, or to even seek out connections with others without feeling hopeless about it all. So it was hidden: in playlists, diary entries, and quiet moments alone. 

Sister & Sister takes the longing of adolescence and hangs it over everything in the film. It lingers over the lush palms and vegetation that covers the houses in the neighborhood, and especially over the quiet moments alone we spend with Marina and Luna. The film is also refreshingly honest and empathetic about teenage sexuality. We see Marina be frank about her concerns with her body (she mentions having trouble reaching orgasm) as she tries to discover what pleasure is like on her terms. It’s never creepy or leering, but very real and complicated.  

If you’ve ever been an awkward, lonely teenager, you know what it’s like to sit with longing. Sister & Sister not only respects that experience, but depicts teenage longing and desire with genuine empathy, care, and warmth. By spending a few days in Panama’s summer heat with Marina and Luna, we get the chance to relive those days and maybe better connect with our teenage selves for a moment. 

As we watch the girls learn about their own desires and longing, we are reminded of what that time was like. For me, the movie was a warm reflection of a time in my life that feels so long ago and yet stays carved in my mind. My inner teenager felt seen and understood through this quietly moving, charming slice-of-life story. When a film can reflect your inner workings on screen, making you feel less alone with your experiences than before you walked into the theater, it’s nothing less than magical. With lovely performances, dreamy imagery, and a deep understanding of teenage girlhood, Sister & Sister is worth a watch for anyone who spent their teenage summers yearning.

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