Film Review: Sister

This assured look at a renegade young brother/trashy older sister duo in a dreary apartment complex on a barren Swiss valley plain dominated by a posh ski resort above underscores the divide between the “have-nots” and the vacationing &#822

It’s Swiss Family Robbin’ in Ursula Meier’s French-Swiss co-production Sister, Switzerland’s official submission for Oscar Best Foreign-Language film consideration. This modest tale of thievery and struggle could have upped the stakes with some fiery class collisions, but light social drama trumps any grandstanding here. Fussier art-house audiences won’t be disappointed, as Léa Seydoux (Farewell, My Queen, Midnight in Paris, etc.), young Kacey Mottet Klein (the excellent Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life), and the unique settings make it all worthwhile.

Simon (Klein) is a 12-year-old who spends his time stealing expensive ski equipment and food from the popular ski resort atop the mountain that overlooks the small apartment he shares in a boxy complex on the barren, snowless industrial plain below with his sister Louise (Seydoux), a fun-loving sort with a weakness for the wrong kind of guy.

At least Simon has his stealing down to a science (until unforeseen circumstances). He knows where and when to find the goods to steal and has a system that lets him transport the booty down to the valley, where he sells his haul to mostly young, returning customers.

Louise tolerates the petty crimes, as she’s otherwise focused and soon takes off with Bruno (Yann Tregouet), another loser who has nothing more to offer than a snazzy BMW. It’s Christmas, but Louise has no problem leaving Simon on his own, even as it’s soon revealed that she is actually his mother. Her assurance to him is that he’s still with her even though everyone else wanted her to give him up.

Bruno dumps Louise, the mother and child bond, Simon runs into trouble with resort kitchen helper Mike (Martin Compston) and the chef himself (Jean-François Stevenin), but for vacationers all ends well, if not for the folks below.

Winner of a Silver Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, Sister is most memorable for its performances, especially Seydoux’s in an amazing stretch from the subdued reader of Farewell, My Queen and by Klein, who suggests, unlike Simon, quite a future.