Kid on a slippery slope
It’s slow, but Donald Clarke is impressed by a vivid performance from the young lead in this drama
URSULA MEIER, director of the defiantly odd, mildly absurdist Home, moves on to more conventional naturalistic territory with this slow-burning, but ultimately rather touching, drama set in a Swiss ski resort. Featuring an uncannily grounded juvenile performance from Kacey Mottet Klein, the picture bides its time quietly for much of its duration. But a final, vaguely hopeful image plays effectively on the layers of nuance that the film has surreptitiously been laying down. Sister stays with you.
Klein plays Simon, a young lad who, living with a slatternly elder sister (Lea Seydoux), but no apparent parents, steals skis, food and assorted Alpine equipment to keep the siblings in a state of tolerable poverty. In the course of his adventures, Simon rubs up against a Scottish chef (Martin Compson) and a middle-class Anglophone tourist (Gillian Anderson of all people). The chef offers him a degree of aggressive Glaswegian kindness. The tourist appears warm at first, but steps back when the boy attempts to break the class barrier.
That’s really all there is to the story. Simon’s sister falls in with a few bad men and, feeling excluded, the boy blurts out a family secret that doesn't change the personal dynamics as much as it should. Simon’s wheeling and dealing lands him in trouble.
At times, that narrative torpor does weigh the picture down. One longs for just a little more incident. But Agnès Godard’s reliably subtle photography – rendering the resort grainy and grim – is diverting throughout and Klein’s performance is never less than compelling.
Sister does take a few digs at middle-European bourgeois society, but it is most notable for its vivid depiction of a timeless character: the canny, streetwise child who, for all his smarts, can’t quite conceal the damaged waif within.
Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo would have understood Simon. We shall keep our eye on young M Klein.
Ski resort siblings: Lea Seydoux, left, and Kacey Mottet Klein in Sister