Following the success of her 2008 debut Home, director Ursula Meier returns with Sister (L’enfant d’en haut, 2011), a moving adolescent drama set against the backdrop of the Swiss Alps, and starring Kacey Mottet Klein, Léa Seydoux, Martin Compston and Gillian Anderson. Everyday, twelve-year-old Simon (Klein) takes the cable car up to the mountains where he mingles amongst the holiday makers and tourists. He hunts through hotel rooms and unattended rucksacks in search of food – however what he’s really searching for are skis, so he can bring them down the mountain and sell them.
Simon lives with his sister (telling everyone who enquiries that his parents died in a car crash) in an isolated tower block which perfectly represents the economic divide between themselves and the wealthy holiday makers who swarm towards the mountains each year. She’s the eldest of the two but the paternal responsibilities have skipped her and instead been inherited by Simon – whose lucrative excursions to the mountain tops is so far their only source of income.
Sister is cut from very much the same cloth as the work of the Dardenne brothers – perfectly capturing the intensity which often brews below the surface of such dysfunctional family dynamics. Meier also successfully displays the fleeting moments of beauty which often present themselves in such times of hardship, an impressive feat which prevents Sister’s gritty kitchen sink dynamic from becoming weighed down in despair and misery. The strikingly assured performance of Klein as Simon, Sister‘s young protagonist, is also remarkable. The film’s success is hinged so rigidly on his role and he deals with his difficult material with ease, seemingly comfortable with anything Meier can thrown at him.
Meier’s portrait of a boy thrust from infancy to adulthood is a remarkably fresh and invigorating adolescent drama that beautifully captures the unquenchable need for love and tenderness of a child – despite whatever economic hardships get in the way. Full of hidden depths, Sister is truly magical, thrusting the audience through a gamut of emotions and brilliantly immersing the viewer into this fascinating setting where the rich frolic high above the poor, like gods with little concern for those less privileged below.
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