Still from Sister (2012) — Image via vegafilm.com

Sister

Directed by Ursula Meier (2012)

Director Ursula Meier’s last film, Home, was a bit of a farce and a bit of a horror movie about a family whose front yard was suddenly replaced by a freeway. With Sister (L’enfant d’en haut), Meier makes a move in the direction of the Dardenne brothers’ aestheticized social realism while easing viewers into her story more subtly than in the previous film.

12-year-old Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) lives with his older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux) in a cramped apartment at the foot of a mountain that is home to a high-end ski resort. At the beginning of the film, Louise has just quit her job and is not eager to find another one. This leaves Simon in the position of supporting both of them, which he does by stealing skis, helmets, goggles, and other equipment from tourists and selling them to local children and resort workers. Meanwhile, Louise goes off for days at a time with an assortment of local men. During his days at the top of the mountain, Simon forms tentative relationships with kitchen worker Mike (Martin Compston) and wealthy chalet owner Kristin (Gillian Anderson). The latter, in particular, seems to be Simon’s way of exploring something he is missing in his relationship with Louise.

Still from Sister (2012) — Image via vegafilm.comOver the course of the film, Meier slowly introduces more information about this central relationship, even managing to pull off a significant plot twist without sensationalism. Simon and Louise both do some fairly awful things, but both are sympathetic and understandable characters. Simon’s thievery, which he carries out in a very driven, methodical fashion, allows him to cope with the precariousness of his family life and economic circumstances. Louise responds to her own misfortunes by frequently sinking into reckless behavior, and she wants to believe that Simon is capable of taking care of himself because she feels her responsibilities toward him as a burden.

Meier finds many opportunities to contrast the luxuries enjoyed by the tourists at the top of the mountain with the less glamorous and often desperate lives of those at the bottom, but she avoids heavy-handedness, focusing more on how Simon moves between these two worlds and tries to find his way in each. Sister‘s original French title, which translates as “The Boy from Above,” invites comparison with the Dardennes’ recent The Kid with a Bike, and as their titles suggest, both films have an element of the fairy tale about them, featuring “lost” children shifting between different locations where they are put through a variety of trials. But while The Kid with a Bike has a sense of positive momentum, however halting, the developments that take place in Sister are more ambiguous. Simon and Louise’s relationship changes, but it is unclear what the outcome of those changes might be.

Overall, Meier’s knack for understatement and her deliberate pacing (which particularly comes to the fore in the final scenes) allow her to weave Sister‘s elements of social commentary, allegory, and family drama together into a substantial and absorbing film.

Originally posted on The 400 Blows

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.