Biting Sister Doesn’t Ski Inbounds
Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) is a thief. A nice, sensitive and friendly 12-year-old thief, but a thief nonetheless. Living in a remote Swiss skiing village with his older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux), the boy heads up the mountain to nab unguarded equipment from the many vacationers trekking, back down again to the small apartment where he and Louise reside to sell his ill-gotten gains to unsuspecting rubes looking to score some cheap gear.
That’s the setup for Ursula Meier’s (Home) sophomore effort Sister (L’Enfant d’en Haut), but to say things go in some indescribable and unique directions would be an understatement. Working once more with fellow writers Antoine Jaccoud and Gilles Taurand, the trio has crafted a documentary-like piece of familial fiction that heads into some strikingly intimate territories, and while some moments can come off as a little slight and maudlin, overall the film hits the right emotional cord throughout as it races towards the finish.
It helps that Sister is also occasionally quite funny, offering up dexterous bits of humor more akin to a Francis Veber farce instead of a Dardenne brothers-style melodrama. The opening half is full of small delights, young Klein showcasing bits of eccentric whimsy that took me by surprise. Both he and up-and-coming it-girl Seydoux (she was terrific in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and practically stole Farewell, My Queen from her far more established costars) are charmingly effective together, their brother-sister bond immediately believable.
A second half twist takes things down a path I never could have anticipated, Meir moving the story into noir-like territory that forced me to sit up straight and pay closer attention to all that was happening. There’s something Roman Polanski-esque about this tonal shift, an eccentric bit of sleight of hand that would be absurd if it weren’t delivered with such humanistic sincerity.
To say more would ruin the surprise, but to not talk about it at all doesn’t allow me to explain why the finished film never quite reaches its full potential. This turn of events, while intriguingly invigorating, still doesn’t make a clean run down the proverbial mountain. There are little hiccups that cause the knees to buckle, making the final push to the finish line not nearly as powerful as I initially hoped it was going to be.
Not that this matters near as much as it potentially could have. The acting is universally excellent, veterans Gillian Anderson, Agnes Godard and Nelly Quettier, along with relative newcomer Martin Compston, all pop up in key roles, each adding to the emotionally malleable frolic Meir is orchestrating. More importantly, the core dynamics of Simon and Louise’s relationship are beautifully realized, the quiet simplicity of their bond rather spectacular, especially considering the frenetic complexity of the film’s second half.
I haven’t seen Home, and after watching Meir’s latest I feel an urgent need to remedy that. The way she handles her camera and her ability to elicit stunning, fully lived-in performances from her stars signify that the director is a major talent worth keeping an eye on. While Sister isn’t without its issues, this drama remains something special, the film’s final moments an avalanche of genuine human understanding that had me happily reaching for the tissues while also letting out a silent euphoric cheer of appreciation.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)