Written and directed by Ursula Meier, her follow-up to the acclaimed family drama Home, Sister is an intimate portrayal of the tumultuous relationship between two siblings set against the stunning, yet eerily isolated backdrop of the Swiss Alps. As the murky and increasingly strained relationship between Simon and Louise is scrutinised through the sharpened screenplay (tender moments prevail over action to dramatic effect, making the twist and breakdowns all the more effective).
Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein), an unprosperous, yet headstrong and determined young boy, lives in the shadows of a wealthy and sprawling ski resort with his older sister, Louise (Léa Seydoux). Using his skills as a sprightly child, Simon braces the cold each and every day to travel up to the soaring ski resort and steal food and provisions to ensure him and his sister don’t succumb to extreme poverty. However, as Simon starts to attract some unwanted attention, Louise struggles to receive the attention she desires and some home truths are inadvertently revealed, their relationship and current setup is tested.
Simon’s determination to make a better life for himself and his sister shines as he forms bonds with a chef (Martin Compston) whose mischievousness only facilitates his pillages and a well-to-do single mother (Gillian Anderson) who represents everything he wants from a traditional family dynamic. Louise, however, continues to sink further and further into a state of oblivion, slinking off into the night with shady men and “borrowing” money from her much younger, and troublingly more stable brother.
It’s through the intense character study that Sister thrives, with its potency only slipping slightly come the sudden, yet not exactly surprising twist that arrives around the midway point. Meier retains her hold on the audience in a competent, skilled manner – one that not only correctly highlights her strong voice, but also hints shrewdly at her somewhat personal understanding of the story she’s telling. These are people who want better for themselves, but who struggle to find the ways in which to achieve their intended realities.
The barrier between the troubled, day-to-day lives endured by Simon and Louise is perfectly contrasted by the opulent, presumptuous lives lived by the people in the sky resort, whose vitality is encapsulated by the position the sky resort holds on top of the mountains and in between the clouds. The sparseness that surrounds the duo’s lonely apartment that resides inside an even lonelier and destitute apartment block amplifies the need for them to do what they can to escape the rut they’ve been left in.
What’s most surprising, however, is the humour that exudes the way in which Simon cheekily goes about his escapades into the mountains. It provides a welcomed interlude to the intense and austere drama, and allows Klein to convey the many sides to Simon. The performances, both from Klein and Seydoux are nothing short of exceptional. Each in their own noteworthy ways manage to navigate the concentrated fashion of the screenplay in tremendous, deeply praiseworthy manner.
It’s when all these pieces come together – Meier’s insightful direction, Agnès Godard’s emblematic cinematography (camera angles and lighting techniques alike) and Klein and Seydoux’ naturalistic, intensely moving performances – that Sister hits particular highs. But even when all the various cogs aren’t entirely in sync, this is a character drama that’s as poignant in its portrayal of the intricate bond between two people struggling to live and love as it is unusually amusing and full of perceptive instances.