In Competition at this year’s Berlinale is Ursula Meier’s second feature film L’enfant d’en haut, or Sister. Set in a popular tourist ski resort in the stunning Alps, the film focuses on 12 year old Simon (magnificently played by Kacey Mottet Klein) who lives in a basic block of flats in a lacklustre town at the bottom of the mountains with his unpredictable and non-present sister Louise, played by French It-girl Léa Seydoux. Simon spends his time taking the cable car up to the resort and sneaking around stealing people’s expensive ski equipment and rummaging through rucksacks for food to eat. He successfully sells the items on to workers at the resort and other kids in the town. The whereabouts of Simon’s parents are unknown and his relationship with his sister is tempestuous. We see as Simon meets people on his way around the resort, a kitchen worker (Martin Compston) who is as intrigued by Simon as we are and a tourist (Gillian Anderson) on holiday with her children, who invokes in Simon a basic desire for a mother.
This is a brilliant film both story wise and visually. There are plenty of beautiful shots of cable cars and mountains contrasted with Simon’s rudimentary place of abode, immediately visualising the luxury versus poverty in such close proximity. It is a great location to set a story and Simon’s story is beautifully constructed, revealing gradually and allowing us to really get to know him. The performances are outstanding, particularly Kacey Mottet Klein as Simon, a wise beyond his years kid who ensures he and his sister survive but yearns for some affection. Léa Seydoux is great as the unbalanced young woman who it seems also craves affection as she disappears for days on end with different men. Anderson’s character gives humanity to the more affluent people whom Simon views as having a disposable lifestyle, simply stating that they don’t miss the ski’s he steals, they can just buy another set.
The story has many emotional peaks for the audience but never dwells for too long on them, just like its protagonist, quickly moving on. Smaller moments in life are affectionately shown, such as Simon giving his sister a stolen coat, as she tries it on he tells her to turn around and again and again. It is these little details that make this film charming. There is a slightly predictable narrative twist but it doesn’t spoil the effectiveness of this tale. The characters are captivating throughout and I found myself immersed in this world completely for the duration. Director Meier and actor Klein successfully create a likeable character doing unlikeable things, and portray a young life full of hardship but with the strength and ability to carry on. One scene where Simon plays and rolls around on the snowy grass on his own reminds us of his real age and enhances the emotional dexterity of the storytelling.
Sister is an observant and often moving drama that explores the underbelly of society, feeding off the rich in order to survive. It is inventive and fresh and offers a completely original viewpoint on the rich and poor dynamic with an emotional depth that is rarely achieved by filmmakers. Meier creates and presents to us a slice of lower class realism in a highly constructed environment amongst an astonishing natural landscape. This is captivating film which explores a miniscule portion of such a vast world and makes it both believable and significant.
Director: Ursula Meier
Writer: Antoine Jaccoud (screenplay), Ursula Meier (screenplay) and Gilles Taurand (screenplay)
Stars: Kacey Mottet Klein, Lea Seydoux, Martin Compston, Gillian Anderson
Runtime: 97 mins