' ' Cinema Romantico: CIFF Review: Sister

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

CIFF Review: Sister

The opening moments of “Sister” are comprised almost entirely of close-ups of our 12 year old protagonist, Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein), in plain disguise in snow pants and a ski mask, as he goes about fleecing the guests at a luxurious ski resort in the Swiss alps. He gathers up skis out in the open and lumbers off with them. He nabs gloves, swipes goggles, pinches coats, digs through backpacks to abscond with food and change. He’s Gaspar LeMarc by way of Ralphie’s brother in “A Christmas Story.” Later we see why director Ursula Meier has chosen to frame the first few images this way – in wide shots Simon becomes lost amidst the setting, the snow and the skiers, as if he’s always below radar cover. No wonder it’s so easy for him to repeatedly pull this ruse.

Simon lives in the shadow of the mountain, in a grimy apartment in a grimy tower in a grimy town with his sister, Louise (Lea Seydoux), a few years older yet decidedly more irresponsible than her kid brother, taking and occasionally demanding the money he earns as a chalet thief to fund a fairly unglamorous life of going off with random guys for days at a time. At one point she returns home with a black eye. No mention is made of it. Perhaps this happens regularly.

We learn from Simon’s brief alliance with a sympathetic cook (Martin Compston) at a resort kitchen that his and Louise’s parents are out of the picture, possibly long since dead. He steals not to afford extravagances but to afford food and rent and toilet paper. People cheer for Robin Hood because he stole from the rich to give to the poor and, essentially, that is what Simon is doing. He is poor. Thus, he is stealing from the rich to give to himself. And to his sister. Does this excuse his actions? It does not, and the film does not attempt to excuse them. But for sure matters of class loom above all in “Sister” and repeated visuals of Simon taking a cable car up to the resort and back down to the valley evoke a mountainside “Upstairs, Downstairs.”

“Sister” significantly relies on a twist. The presentation of the twist is as jarring as the twist itself. No bells and whistles, it’s just suddenly……there. Can you “see it coming”? Perhaps. I didn’t “see it coming”. But I never see any twists coming. I live movies frame to frame. It doesn’t matter much either way because the twist is not as much about Shock Value as it is about a re-valuing of the movie’s priorities.

Sometimes the most un-humane decisions can be wrong morally but right financially. Sometimes the most humane decisions can be right morally but wrong financially. It's an exacting portrait of an eternal dilemma.


Anonymous said...

So this is not the one about the banana, is it? :) Sounds interesting, I like Lea Seydoux in Midnight in Paris. I've been watching a lot of indie movies the past week but interestingly most of them are US based. I'm curious about that twist now, nice to hear it's not done just for shock value.

Nick Prigge said...

No. This was not the banana movie. The bananas weren't necessarily integral to either of the other movies but they were prominently mentioned in individual scenes and, well, you can go MONTHS without hearing banana mentioned in a movie!

That's one of the best things about CIFF. They really honor the "International" of the fest title. Lots of cool foreign flicks here.