There’s nothing without love
Up in the Swiss mountains, a bustling ski resort caters to the every need of the carefree and affluent, while far below two orphaned siblings, the beautiful, yet wholly unreliable 20-something Louise and the scrawny, no nonsense 12-year old Simon, live in an aging apartment tower and struggle to make ends meet. The virtually non-existent space in between, the supposed middle class, is represented by the ski lifts, their only purpose a mechanical one, to shuttle individuals back and forth between two disparate worlds.
For Simon, the ski resort and its wealthy patrons represent opportunity. Armed with his most valuable possession, a season pass for the slopes, which in his mind equates to a golden ticket that opens the gates to a glorious candy kingdom only for those who possess it, Simon quickly learns to use the indifference of the uncaring world, a world that has turned a blind eye to his problems, to his advantage. Honing his natural talents and street smarts Simon quickly develops a keen eye for spotting high quality ski gear, the stealth and cunning of a master thief, and the business savvy of seasoned hustler. Each day he makes his way up the mountain, happily preying on those whose only response to finding their precious ski gear missing will be a sigh, and a resignation that they’ll simply have to replace that which has been lost with a newer, better, more expensive version, and each night he returns home pulling a sled piled high with all manner of resellable items behind him. Business, for at least one of the siblings, be it illegal or otherwise unlawful, is booming.
Older, and far more resigned to her situation, Louise pursues her failing dreams of wealth and stability through the acquisition of a male suitor who will care for her. Unstable, and unable to hold even the most menial of jobs for any great period of time, she continually finds herself being either abused or abandoned, or some combination of both, by the low caliber of men she chooses to chase after. She thinks nothing of leaving Simon alone for days on end in order to establish new relationships, and thinks just as little when it comes to lying about Simon’s standing in her life to those who actually stick around long enough to have the privilege to meet him: He’s just visiting temporarily, or he’s just passing through on a vacation, or don’t worry, he’s not a permanent fixture around here. These lies are repeatedly told in Simon’s presence, and being the younger, more vulnerable member of the pair, he has little choice but to play along with them. As we know all too well however, the truth has a funny way of revealing itself at the most pivotal of moments.
When the bombshell does arrive, it will change everything, not only for the siblings themselves, but also for the viewer who has become breathlessly attached to their plight. As the weather begins to change, and the ski lodge begins the process of closing down until the next winter season arrives, the relationship between brother and sister evolves from a position that was precarious in the best of times, to one that becomes emotionally explosive and completely unlivable for both. Any feelings of love that may have grown between the two as a result of necessity has been replaced by fear, indifference, and the realization that both have been forced to sacrifice their youth, but neither has ever truly learned how to grow up.
Ursula Meier’s devastating portrait of damaged youth lives or dies based on the performance of its lead actors. Young Kacey Mottet Klein gives the best performance seen by any child in a film since Haley Joel Osment wowed critics and audiences alike in the Sixth Sense. His turn as Simon, a criminal in training on one hand, and a child desperate to feel the loving embrace of family on the other, is portrayed with an emotional depth that goes well beyond his limited years. In her role as Louise, Lea Seydoux skillfully manages the seemingly impossible task of making her both dislikable and sympathetic at the same time.
Love can change everything, but so to can its absence. No matter how smart the child, how resilient or resourceful they might be, the emptiness caused by the lack of such a crucial emotion can never be adequately filled. Together, but ultimately disconnected and fractured, Sister’s siblings speak for the growing number of youth that are forced to grow up within a fast-paced world that has little time or desire to help care for them properly.
Sister (L’enfant d’en haut)
Directed by Ursula Meier