Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) lives with his older sister Louise (Lea Seydoux) in a housing complex below a luxury Swiss ski resort. With Louise drifting in and out of jobs and relationships, twelve year-old Simon takes on the responsibility of providing for the two of them. Every day, he takes the lift up to the opulent ski world above, stealing equipment from rich tourists to resell to the local kids down in the valley. He is able to keep their little family afloat with his small-time hustles and Louise is thankful for the money he brings in. But, when Simon partners with a crooked British seasonal worker, he begins to lose his boundaries, affecting his relationship with his sister and plummeting him into dangerous territory.
The second movie from female director Ursula Meier Sister (L'enfant d'en haut in French) tales a modern and mildly depressing reworking of Tom Thumb, the tiny boy who goes un-noticed but for the tricks that help him pay his way.
In this version however the Tom character is 12 year old boy Simon, who lives in the small impoverished village and the foot of a beautiful Swiss mountain that houses an affluent ski lodge. Rather than playing tricks and putting on shows for the well off ski bunnies Simon spends his time sulking around the lodge stealing anything he can lay his hands on. Not for his own selfish means however, no; Simon is the only real economic contributor to his two person household which consists of him and his flighty and restless older sister whose emotional damage seems to leave her incapable of holding down a job or maintaining a relationship and who tells anyone who will listen that their parents died tragically in a car crash.
This unlikely storyline allows a narrative not unlike that of Meier’s debut feature Home to play out where the characters explore the borders and boundaries between two parallel but juxtaposing worlds. Where Home presented the family home perched beside a motorway Sister not only explores the difference between the affluent skiers and the industrial town below but also the contrast between infancy and adulthood, flipping the character types on their heads and providing us with a wonderfully emotional exploration of an orphaned child’s sudden sense of responsibility and the hardships of growing up too fast.
Despite the obscure and occasionally difficult subject matter the performances in Sister make this movie a lively and invigorating experience. Kacey Mottet Klein’s performance as Simon holds the entire film up and is clearly the reason for the movies success at European film festivals last year; (I particularly enjoyed the physicality of his performance as he returns home with all his stolen garments worn at once). Sister is far from the most unusual movie I’ve seen this year but is certainly one of the most pleasantly surprising.