In a Swiss alpine resort, 12 year old Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) has a ski pass that gets him up the mountain, where he steals anything he can sell to the kids down in the valley. He shares a dingy apartment with his pretty but lazy older sister, Louise (Léa Seydoux). They need to look after themselves, but it's Simon's thieving that keeps food on the table and money in their pockets. Louise, who's unable to hold down a steady job, doesn't seem to care.
Review by Louise Keller:
Like a mountain whose slopes are to be discovered by the skiers who conquer them, the relationship between 12 year old protagonist Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) and his irresponsible older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux) is one that is just as mysterious. Ursula Meier's intriguing film explores juxtapositions and angles. There is the sharp contrast between the rich skiing holiday makers, a snapshot of whose existence is captured high above the clouds in a pure white snowy paradise, and those from the grimy mundane world below, who struggle for food and their daily existence. Simon is an enigma: a conflicted individual who straddles the two worlds in a bid to survive - physically and emotionally.
When we first meet Simon, rummaging through backpacks and stealing skis, gloves, goggles and glasses and expertly relocating the items to the real world at the bottom of the cable car, we know little about his motivation. He gifts his pretty sister with a blue pastel jacket and insists she buys a pair of jeans. They tousle playfully on the ground - in a scene that we remember well later in the film, when they tousle again - this time in different circumstances.
Soon it is apparent that Simon supports Louise by his nimble fingers and innate ability to sell the items he has stolen. As for Louise, her interests are rat-bag boyfriends with red BMWs and money. Neither interest shows her in a good light. Beyond the push-pull relationship between Simon and Louise, there is a sadness about both characters, both of which are needy. The film also canvasses the relationship Simon develops - with a mountain top kiosk restaurant worker (Martin Compston) and a holidaying ski-mum (Gillian Anderson), both of whom he uses.
Klein delivers an extraordinary performance as Simon, whose tough and vulnerable sides are shown in equal measures. Equally complex is the performance by Seydoux, whose expressive face and beautiful features bring the required conflict to the role. There are many touching moments, none more so when Louise accepts all of Simon's money for a taste of affection. Both characters show the lengths to which they will go, to get what they want.
The content gets grittier and grittier as the film progresses and some may be disappointed by the ending, which leaves us hanging - as if on a mountain ledge. But maybe that is the point. Performances are brilliant, though.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Sister is one of those films that quietly gets under your skin - in the best possible way. It's a film about character and relationships. And its unpredictability is what adds the dramatic tension. At first, we are uninvolved, then we start making moral judgements, then we start examining those judgements and finally we reassess them.
It's a film of nuances and observation, not that dialogue is scarce. It's a film that uses naturalism as emotional driver ... it's a film that has great sympathy for all its flawed characters. And set in a Swiss ski resort, it's also a film that points to the chasm between people so close together. Loneliness.
Needless to say it's a performance film, and Kacey Mottet Klein as the 12 year old Simon is superb. He touches us in so many ways, as we follow him on an emotional and moral journey that is absolutely compelling - although we don't quite recognise it at first. Léa Seydoux plays Louise, an amazing characterisation of a complex, wounded, contradictory character who is at first alienating with her disregard for responsibility. But here, too, the filmmakers avoid being judgemental to the point that we are asked to engage our compassion for her.
Gillian Anderson only has three scenes, but they are all quietly dramatic; she is one of the ski mums on an expensive holiday, and her minimalist performance is admirable. On a totally different note is Martin Compston, the fly-in-fly-out English cook at the ski resort kitchen who gets tangled up in Simon's tricky world. Compston is utterly convincing and remarkably engaging.
In many ways this is a simple film filled with complex, often unstated or understated messages and Ursula Meier's use of images, framing and limited exposition propels the film's power. Winner of the Silver Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, and Switzerland's official submission for the 2013 Academy Awards, Sister had its Australian premiere at Margaret River's CinefestOZ in August 2013.
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L'enfant d'en haut
CAST: Léa Seydoux, Kacey Mottet Klein, Martin Compston, Gillian Anderson
PRODUCER: Ruth Waldburger
DIRECTOR: Ursula Meier
SCRIPT: Ursula Meier, Antoine Jaccoud, Gilles Taurand
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Agnès Godard
EDITOR: Nelly Quettier
MUSIC: John Parish
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ivan Niclass
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 24, 2013