Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Michael Lyons reviews Sister
Watching this film, I couldn’t help but see parallels with Ken Loach or Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur. Fitting into the social realism genre, Sister tackles the issues of poverty and class division. Director Ursula Meier casts the magnifying glass over a relatively unused cinematic location – the ski resort. For a non-skier, such a place conjures up imaginings of wooden cabins, picturesque views and happy holidaymakers whizzing down the slopes. This is not far from the truth I’m sure, but what is it like for the locals? Meier takes away the magic of the mountains and reveals a gritty side we never knew existed.
It is clear Meier is interested in marginalised people living on the periphery. Her previous feature, Home, looks at how the lives of a rural family are turned upside-down by the opening of a highway beside their house. The plot of Sister centres on Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein), a mischievous boy, who thieves from wealthy skiers to support Louise (Lea Seydoux), his lazy sister. Instead of playing in the park or going to school, Simon has been forced to work from an early age. The initial scenes show him going about his business in an inconspicuous manner, ducking and diving out of trouble. The temptation to judge is irresistible. There is no if’s or but’s with robbery. Put simply, stealing is stealing. However, peel back the covers and you find desperate poverty which provokes such acts. In Simon’s case, he wants to provide for his older sister and he revels in being the breadwinner. It seems more than a little backward that the younger sibling should shoulder financial responsibility for the household; however this isn’t a normal relationship.
Meier’s talent is there for all to see in Sister. She meshes a unique story together with a powerful social commentary on class division. The cinematography cleverly juxtaposes the two different ‘worlds’ of the Alps as Simon goes up and down the mountain each day. At the top, it is white, bright and awe-inspiring. At the bottom, it is grey, dark and gloomy reality. Meier uses the mountain as a metaphor to help show class boundaries and conflict as Simon steals possessions from the affluent.
Another skill Meier possesses is the ability to create three-dimensional characters that are complicated and flawed. I don’t think Meier ever wants us to judge these characters, rather she hopes to inspire empathy. We understand why Simon steals. Less clear is why Louise behaves in the way she does, but as the film evolves, a shocking insight is revealed.
With tremendous acting, excellent cinematography and a ponderous score; it is easy to see why Sister has been nominated as the Swiss entry for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at next year’s Oscars. A sad but powerful film that will change your opinion of ski resorts forever.
Sister screens at Cornerhouse from today. Book your tickets here.