Title: SISTER (L’enfant d’en haut)
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten
Director: Ursula Meier
Screenwriter: Antoine Jaccoud, Ursula Meier w/ Gilles Taurand’s collaboration
Cast: Léa Seydoux, Kacey Mottet Klein, Martin Compston, Gillian Anderson, Jean-François Stévenin
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 9/24/12
Opens: October 5, 2012
Switzerland may have been able to avoid wars on its soil for over four hundred years in part because it remains non-aligned, but director Ursula Meier, using a script developed with Antoine Jaccoud, is anything but neutral. She believes that kids who steal for food and rent for themselves and their families are different from those who steal to buy X-Box 360’s with games like Assassin’s Greed III, or a couple of pairs of Michael Jordan sneakers, and that the amorality of such youngsters can be charming, allowing us in the audience to empathize with their quest to redistribute the income of the rich.
Such a tyke is Simon, whose character gets a first-class performance from Kacey Mottet Klein as a twelve-year-old (thirteen when the film was made), a skinny lad bearing few hairs on his chest who appears in virtually every frame. With a mop of brown hair that has rarely seen the inside of a barber shop, Simon is the epitome of a small-time hustler working without accomplices, a kid with the gumption to steal coats, skis, shades and hats from the rich clientele patronizing a swank Swiss ski resort. Meier uses a cable car to symbolize the ease with which Simon can ascend from his modest quarters on the bottom of a mountain, contrasting that with the near impossibility of his climbing in socio-economic status though quite capable of providing a modicum of survival for himself and his sister, Louise (Léa Seydoux).
Simon depends on the loot that an international set places trustingly on hooks within the ski lodges, even to the extent of eating the sandwiches that they have stashed for après-ski lounging. Like a Dickensian character he sells the ski gear to the mostly youthful kids who will pay for the produce while at the same time refusing to consider Simon to be a friend. His only pal is his sister, and she is often no more reliable as a supplier of emotional warmth for her younger brother than is the Scottish seasonal worker who, together with other working-class adults in the resort, will buy the second-hand products at the best price that Simon can get.
“Sister” bears the more accurate title “L’enfant d’en haut” (The Boy from on high”) in that the focus is primarily on Simon and not on his sibling. Speaking of focus, one of the frustrations of the movie is that director of photographer Agnès Godard, is more intent on presenting close-ups of the principals than he is on showing us the glories of the snow-capped Swiss peaks.
“Sister” is only partly a sociological view of a boy who tries to make a living in the only way he sees possible, without parental guidance or presumably the capacity to sit in on a wooden classroom bench and learn a trade. The film is primarily about the boy’s emotional vulnerabilities, as his sister, who alternates hot and cold toward the younger person, often seem to want him out of her way—or at least, not recognizing her conflicted emotions, she often tells him “I don’t want you.”
The film’s bleak look at a dysfunctional pair is alleviated occasionally by humor, as when Simon inducts an even younger boy into the trade. Léa Sardoux and Kacey Mottet Klein are ideally cast as an interdependent pair, both immature but in different ways, the female being the lazier one and the male the more assertive. Meier is in her métier, having previously directed “Home,” about a rural family whose life is upended by the revival of a construction project.
Unrated. 97 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+