Director: Ursula Meier
Cast: Kacey Mottet Klein, Léa Seydoux, Martin Compston, Gilian Anderson
Running Time: 100 mins
Release Date: November 2nd
Ursula Meier’s sophomore feature Sister is a sort of Fairytale of New Europe. It tells of young Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein), who lives with his sister Louise (Léa Seydoux) in a town on the Swiss-French border. They seem to have been abandoned by their parents, and Simon supports his troubled sister by stealing expensive equipment from the upper-class patrons of a nearby ski resort. Louise comes and goes as she pleases, loses all of her jobs and runs away with violent boys. Her brother has to figure out ever-more inventive ways to pass on his stolen goods and earn back the money she wastes.
There’s an upstairs/downstairs sort of movement between these two locations that gives the narrative its momentum. But both the resort and the town below are unreal-seeming; the former, a higher realm in which beautiful people accomplish great aerodynamic feats; the latter, a literal city of lost children, a chaotic wasteland where only survivalists like Simon have any chance of improving themselves. In classic fairytale fashion, there seem to be no adults here; they exist only within the resort as spectral representations of the family and stability for which Simon longs. This longing drives him to take greater and greater risks. 12-year-old Kacey Mottet Klein’s performance is absolutely crucial in making this sense of longing plausible. He enhances Meier’s sparse dialogue with tics and physical idiosyncrasies that would be remarkable in a character actor many multiples his years.
Simon spends a lot of time sneaking around the resort, or bobbing around snowdrifts at the mountain’s foot. It’s interesting that these scenes are both objectively gorgeous and incredibly tough to watch. Agnes Godard’s cinematography deftly turns mere scenery into a child’s view of a prematurely unfair-seeming world. Still, the film remains a kind of fable; even Simon and Louise’s squat, the one place we might get to see some real poverty, is lit in a weird, obfuscatory way. It’s like a child’s bedroom at night, where streetlights and passing cars can turn familiar toys and things half-monstrous.
Sister isn’t a perfect film; Godard’s cinematography is such a distinctive feature that sometimes Meier seems to expect the exotic landscape to tell the story for her. Characters other than Simon don’t really get a look-in. Louise doesn’t feature enough to really develop, and Gillian Anderson’s rich English Mum is a jarring cliché. Still, Sister is a remarkable and haunting modern fairytale.