By Simon Miraudo
January 21, 2013
(Republished March 14, 2014)
Ursula Meier's Sister commands your respect if not your attention. It tells of the complicated relationship between a 12-year-old thief, Simon (newcomer Kacey Mottet Klein), and his burnt out soeur, Louise (the entrancing Léa Seydoux). Simon and Louise don't so much share a life as they infrequently collide. Sometimes they merely brush past one another, represented beautifully in the affecting final moments. We spend a winter with the siblings, during which time Simon steals ski equipment from the rich tourists at the nearby resort, and pawns it off to local kids for small change.
There's little discernable plot, besides the persistent threat of Simon being unable to sell enough black-market gear to provide food for him and Louise. That's not to say there aren't rewards to be found in Sister's sparse storytelling - such as some astutely observed moments, one shocking revelation, and an unexpected burst of violence - it's just that they come between drowsy blinks.
Slow-moving to the point of being glacial, Meier's icy endeavour is just barely rewarding enough to warrant the effort required to sit through it. The two main actors deserve much of the credit for keeping us awake (as does Gillian Anderson, who plays one of Simon's victims). Young Klein's turn recalled the frantic yet understated work of Thomas Doret in the Dardenne brothers' remarkable film The Kid With a Bike. That movie, too, took its time, but overall it told a compelling story that built to a satisfying conclusion. By comparison, the abstract nature of Sister seeks only to diminish the good work of its two stars. Agnès Godard's cinematography is impressive, highlighting shades in the Swiss setting where a lesser photographer would only find boring old whiteness.
Far be it for me to suggest a picture needs plenty of plot to be any good; recent flicks I've adored like Somewhere, The Tree of Life, and even This Is 40 have proven that isn't the case. There has to be at least a little bit of thrust, however. Meier - who co-wrote the feature with Antoine Jaccoud and Gilles Taurand - never quite justifies the brief story she's telling. Slices of life are fine; I just wish this one didn't make me so sleepy.
Sister will be available from Quickflix on March 19, 2014.