SISTER

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4 stars
Twelve year old Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) lives in a grim tower block in a small service town for a Swiss ski-field. In the absence of parents (according to the boy, they are dead), he supports himself and his older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux) by stealing equipment from the field's wealthy and selling it wherever he can. This is a simple and effective plan, and one that mostly works for the disciplined boy. It is his undisciplined sibling that is the fly in his ointment. Despite Simon's absolute and undying love for Louise, her actions force them into a corner from which no one will emerge unscathed. Cautiously paced, this gripping story of halves screams to lovers of character and performance driven film. Action-junkies look elsewhere.

Sister is the kind of film you think you've seen before, but really you haven't. An emotionally charged hand-grenade it explodes somewhere around half way when Meier invokes one of two significant twists hiding up her sleeve. And she's hidden them well. As writer / director, her grip on the material is both strong and thorough, generating deep, unexpected responses that place the straight-forward narrative in a much broader, more challenging context. This isn't about what the kids do, it's about why they're forced to do it, and what we're going to do about that. Set against the bleak austerity of the service town and a spectacular alpine setting, Meier creates a perfect environment in which to ruminate on the dichotomy that is us and them and the lengths we go to keep it that way.

Seydoux (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and the upcoming Cannes darling – Blue is the Warmest Colour) is a brilliant combination of a young woman unable or unwilling to let go of the teenager inside. The consequences of this are deep and profound. Yet as good as she is, the film belongs to Klein who transcends both boy and man to create a character grown beyond his years with a single minded determination to keep himself and his sister safe. It's as compelling as it is distressing for Simon is no Hollywood kidult but a fully fleshed, unsympathetic human trying his best the only way he knows how; a provocative manifestation of what Western poverty is creating across Europe and, presumably, beyond. In short, Klein is heart-breakingly good. Gillian Anderson (The X Files) and Martin Compston (Red Road) pitch in with sharp, precise support.

Sister is a significant achievement that speaks to the complex and failing society that is contemporary Europe. This is also about secrets and lies, right and wrong, have and have not. But at its heart, Sister is a tender love story between people thrown a curve ball, and a plea to the rest of us to open our eyes before rushing to judgement. If only for a moment.

// COLIN FRASER

Previewed at Verona Cinemas, Sydney on October 9, 2013

4 stars
There are two sides to every story and Sister, directed by Ursula Meier, is a classic example. It is set in two locations, one at the top of a mountain in a ski resort somewhere in the Alps in Switzerland and the other in a block of dreary concrete apartments at the bottom. Here we are introduced to a young boy, Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein – Gainsbourg) and his older sibling, Louise (Lea Seydoux – Inglorious Basterds / Midnight In Paris). Louise often disappears for days on end, leaving her 12 year-old brother to fend for himself in the bleak industrial wasteland.

Simon is totally adept at his mission to survive. He takes the ski-lift daily up to the resort and spends his time skillfully stealing anything he can re-sell. His loot is mainly ski gear, which ranges from clothing to equipment. The skis are transported back down to his apartment where he fastidiously re-waxes their blades so they can be sold as new. He even uses the road leading up to the resort for his mobile stall which attracts a passing trade. You get the feeling that the buyers know that the stuff is ‘hot’ but who cares? After all, the ‘bourgeoisie’ embrace a bargain like everyone else!

Simon befriends one of the ski chalet chefs, Mike (Martin Compston – The Disappearance Of Alice Creed), who is British and there to work during the snow season. Mike is after the latest skis which he plans to take back to the UK and sell for a profit. Simon also establishes an acquaintance with a woman, Kristen (Gillian Armstrong – The X Files), who he meets one day in the open air café at the ski resort. She is obviously wealthy and, curious about Simon, asks him questions about his life but, along with his other talents, Simon is a consummate liar. Meanwhile Louise is like a yo-yo, going backwards and forwards, returning on one occasion with a black eye, a souvenir from one of her rat bag acquaintances. She is always broke and seems to have an emotional hold over her brother, who steals a jacket to make sure she does not suffer from the cold. He also provides for her financially; at one point, in a heart wrenching scene, he pays her just so he can be close to her. It is obvious that Simon has great affection for Louise and herein lies the secret that is the heart of the movie.

This is a film of great emotional intensity. The performances are excellent - heart-breaking at times. Agnes Godard’s cinematography captures the bleak, hostile yet at times breathtakingly beautiful scenery perfectly. It is the constant juxtaposition of the two locations that keep the storyline on such an edge, for they represent the disparity between rich and poor… and truth and lies. It is interesting to note that one of the co-writers, Antoine Jaccoud, is a sociologist. Sister missed out on being nominated the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2013 Oscars; however, it comes with great cred as it won the Silver Bear in Berlin in 2012 when Mike Leigh helmed the jury. Enough said.

// SALT

Previewed at Verona Cinemas, Sydney on October 9, 2013

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STUFF

STARRING
Léa Seydoux
Kacey Mottet Klein
Martin Compston
Gillian Anderson

DIRECTOR
Ursula Meier

DIRECTOR
Ursula Meier
Antoine Jaccoud
Gilles Taurand

COUNTRY
France / Swizterland (subtitles)

CLASSIFICATION
M

RUNTIME
97 minutes

AUSTRALIAN
RELEASE DATE
October 31, 2013
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Sister (2012) on IMDb
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