In her debut feature, the disquietingly surrealist Home, Swiss director Ursula Meier painted the picture of a family unit closed so much over itself that its emotional autarky couldn't survive when confronted with the outside world. The filmmaker's sophomore effort is a much less surreal tale, but it still deals with the emotional fallout from a rundown family situation, in the story of two siblings living hand-to-mouth and left to fend for themselves - or rather, with the young Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) having to fend both for himself and for his older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux). He does so by leaving their suburban tower block in the middle of a low-rise Swiss nowhere and taking the cable car to the local ski resort, where he passes himself as a tourist to steal anything that might be of use, from ski gears to packed lunches.

     Contrasting the rarified, well-off "up there" with the struggling, penniless "down here" suggests some sort of fairly obvious social metaphor appropriate both to modern times and to the notoriously two-leveled Swiss society. But Ms. Meier is not so much interested in that (though it is obvious it is never far from her mind) as she is in the potential the structure has to reflect Simon and Louise's relationship with each other. Love and affection are intertwined and often mistaken for money and survival; the older girl seems to veer from tender friendliness to petulant disinterest, while the young boy seems to yearn for a paternal/maternal figure that is constantly out of reach, especially because Louise refuses to be it. At heart, Ms. Meier wants to track how two people who yearn desperately for human contact and the human touch but don't have and are suspicious of any "functional" family unit can find their own roles and build their own family - and it's here that Sister finds its greatest strengths, as well as some of its flaws.

      The up/down symbolism may be somewhat obvious, but that doesn't make it any less effective, and the apparent incongruity of the tower block where Louise and Simon live not only mirrors the ski resort's bourgeois comforts but also the idea of a haven, or oasis; what's less interesting is the need for a more conventionally melodramatic conflict between the siblings, when the film works much better as it juxtaposes the different rhythms and feels of Simon's day (the fantasyland "up there", the drudgery "down here"), especially since the young Mr. Klein is such an assured presence. Either way, Sister is a much more interesting work than Home. 

Cast: Léa Seydoux, Kacey Mottet Klein, Martin Compston, Gillian Anderson
Director: Ursula Meier
Screenplay: Antoine Jaccoud, Ms. Meier, with Gilles Taurand
Cinematography: Agnès Godard  (colour)
Music: John Parish
Designer: Ivan Niclass
Costumes: Anne van Brée
Editor: Nelly Quettier
Producers: Denis Freyd, Ruth Waldburger (Archipel 35 and Vega Film in co-production with RTS and Bande à Part Films)
France/Switzerland, 2012, 97 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12 (Lisbon), March 15th 2013


Popular Posts