Set primarily in Swiss ski resort and nominated for a foreign language Oscar, “Sister” is an emotional and mature work that is engaging from start to finish. All the actors are effective, but fifteen-year-old Kacey Mottet Klein steals the show as Simon, a youthful twelve-year-old dealing with responsibilities and problems way beyond his age level. Simon lives in a low-rent apartment with his immature older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux of “Blue is the Warmest Color.”You might remember her as one of the LaPadite sisters at the beginning of “Inglourious Basterds.)
While Simon makes money stealing equipment and luggage from a nearby ski resort and selling the philfered items, Louise shirks any kind of responsibility, mooching off the spoils of her brother’s thievery and having sex with different guys. Although Simon takes from tourists with a cold and calculated efficiency, you can’t help but feel for the little guy as he does what he has to to survive.
There is definitely a weird incestuous subtext between Simon and Louise. You don’t feel that they are aware of this or that they would even act on it, but their relationship is marked by an odd co-dependence and half-formed, burgeoning sexual interest on Simon’s part, and maybe even on Louise’s too. There’s a very strange scene partway through (which I love and I think speaks volumes about this pair of outcasts) where Simon pays the angry Louise over a hundred dollars to sleep next to her.
He craves human contact, but Louise is selfish and exploits his vulnerability in a weird way, and is only able to offer comfort in the most basic manner. The cinematography is great and in it’s own way, powerful, while the ending leaves you to draw your own conclusion. Scotsman Martin Compston (who caught my attention playing a sympathetic criminal in Ken Loach’s social realism drama “Sweet Sixteen) has a role as a employee at the resort who gets in on Simon’s thieving.
“Sister” is special in that it is pensive and character-based without being ever boring and it evokes deep emotions, yet is subjective and stays away from gooey sentimentality or blatant attempts at audience manipulation. There are no ‘villains,’ just despair and dead ends. Kacey Mottet Klein is just perfect as a kid who has many foils and has run into trouble trying to live a halfway normal life.
Don’t let the incestuous vibe I get from this picture deter you from watching a great foreign film. This is not a movie about pedophilia. It is a movie about secrets, responsibility, and what it means to be an adult. Léa Seydoux is practically his equal as a character you probably should hate, but you end up feeling kind of sorry for.
“Sister” proves that ‘art film’ doesn’t have to mean being bored out of your mind. If you don’t mind subtitles, you’ll surely find value in this fascinating film about a troubled girl and a little boy who is forced to take up responsibility for the two of them. I liked this almost but not quite as much as “The Intouchables,” the French submission for best foreign film of 2012. While “The Intouchables” is heartwarming and funny “Sister” is quieter, sadder, and maybe a little truer. Do. Not. Miss.