Ursula Meier’s sophomore feature, Sister (L’enfant d’en haut, 2011), is one of those all too infrequent examples of well-handled, powerful and emotionally-charged drama, with tremendous performances from the young Kacey Mottet Klein and Léa Seydoux. Opening in a ski resort high in the Swiss Alps we find a young boy, Simon (Klein), dexterously pilfering skis and equipment to sell in the industrial town further down the mountain. Living with his sister, Louise (Seydoux), Simon has had to grow up fast. As Simon manages to make a living through selling stolen goods to his similarly aged peers, he rarely has the opportunity to indulge in childish pleasures.
The situation is made continually worse by the undercurrent of tension in the relationship with Simon’s sister, who he utterly dotes upon. The slowly mounting strain of their fraught, unstable lifestyle starts to show as a secret emerges from between the cracks and builds to an emotionally fraught conclusion. Klein’s captivating performance as Simon is a stroke of youthful genius, possessing the aged weariness of a wizened old crook, in total contrast with the need to be a playful child.
The gradual decline of Simon into the realisation that he is not yet fully capable of being an adult reveals itself in a well-handled regression back to the emotions and needs of a child his actual age. Meanwhile, Seydoux’s Louise shows a shocking level of neglect towards her younger charge, as she bed hops and gladly takes all the money Simon has to offer, which despite the heartache it causes is rarely enough to break their familial bond. Seydoux and Klein precisely capture the feelings of sorrow at being left on the fringes of society as outcasts, always captivating and enthralling as their story plays out.
In addition, there are the finely considered (and at times heart-wrenching) performances from the supporting cast, which include Gillian Anderson as a middle-class mother abroad and Martin Compston, who merrily witters on in pigeon French. Both these characters use and reject Simon as much as Seydoux’s Louise, adding to the well-toned and never exploitative heartbreak. The power and subtlety of this excellent slice of emotive drama should not be underestimated. When Meier’s Sister’s perfectly pitched final scene cuts to black, you will awaken from the tragic tale knowing that you have witnessed something special.
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