Translating the original title of Ursula Meier’s film, L’enfant d’en haut, is “The Boy from Above”. A very literal title indeed that recalls recent films like The Dardenne Brothers’ The Kid with a Bike. That Meier’s film has been given the initially rather vague title is surprising, but will soon make sense for viewers who take in this brittle family drama from Switzerland. Winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, it comes with a story that is ripe for downtrodden doom and gloom, but ends up impressing with its playfulness and wonderfully devoted performances.
Recalling the Russian drama Elena from recent months, Sister plays with the divide between the poor and the affluent. Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) and his sister, Louise (Léa Seydoux, Midnight in Paris), live in a dank apartment block at the base of a popular ski resort. During the day, Simon traipses the mountainside for unattended ski equipment that he then sells as a means of making the money that his sister, a big-haired bed-hopper who looks like she stepped right out of a 1980s music video, cannot after the death of their parents. Scenes of Simon’s follies allow Klein to be the cheeky, if somewhat out of his depth, child that it’s sometimes easy to forget he is. When he’s not begging a neighbour for pasta, working his product to locals, or pretending to be the son of wealthy parents just to make friends on the slopes with vacationing foreigners, his child’s face radiates.
The entire film is rather wonderful, but where Meier really struck gold was with the dynamics between Klein and Seydoux. Muddied and frequently bruised, their tumultuous relationship never fails to convince. Filled with lovely character-building moments–I particularly liked how Simon uses the filtered tips of his sister’s cigarettes as earplugs when she has a boyfriend over–and dialogue, that Meier co-wrote with Antoine Jaccoud, that stings. When Simon yells at the much older Louise that “You’re not my boss”, it’s hard to not feel for the boy who has clearly been forced to become the so-called man of the house in absence of any other reliable parental figure. A wicked supporting turn from Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) tops off the pleasures of this Swiss peak.
Sister will be distributed locally by Palace Films
Director: Ursula Meier
Cast: Kacey Mottel Klein, Léa Seydoux, Martin Compston, Gillian Anderson, Jean-Francois Stévenin,
Yann Trégouet, and Gabin Lefebvre