POSTED October 18 2012

Ursula Meier’s Sister

Kacey Mottet Klein and Lea Seydoux in Sister.

Ursula Meier makes unforgettable portraits of characters who function through dysfunction. Sister,  the second feature of this most compelling artist, is Switzerland’s entry in the race for a foreign-film Oscar nomination. In the genre of films  about dispossessed youth, this one deserves a place alongside Luis Bunuel’s Los Olvidados and Hector Babenco’s Pixote.

Meier’s compelling tale focuses of the hardscrabble lives of siblings who live in the valley below a posh Swiss ski resort. Simon is his sister’s keeper. Which is odd, because Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein, the son in Meier’s 2008 film, Home) is considerably younger than  Louise, played by Lea Seydoux, a rag-doll beauty with bruised eyes.

During ski season, Simon rides the gondola up the mountain. While the skiiers enjoy lunch or a hot chocolate, Simon, small, innocuous and stealthy, relieves them of their costly skis,  sunglasses and outerwear parked outside the restaurant and sells the goods to his schoolmates. You may be horrified by Simon’s casual amorality but you have to admire his deftness and entrepreneurial hustle.

Working with the gifted cinematographer Agnes Godard, whose stark, startling compositions are ravishing, Meier does not make a big statement about the economic disparities between those who disport themselves on the snowy mountaintop and those who eke out an existence in the grey slush below. That would be a different movie. She’s interested in what makes Simon run, and it isn’t the wads of francs he gets from selling stolen Rossignols. What void inside him do these stolen goods fill? Is it longing for his absent parents, of whom he does not speak? Or for human connection of a sort that his detached sister can not give him?

In her movie told with great economy, first Meier makes the audience accessory to Simon’s crimes. Then she taps a deep vein of compassion bottomless as the Alps.

For those who have seen Sister, your thoughts? For those who have not, your favorite films about restless adolescents?



  1. Bob Schwartz says:

    My favorite film of this type is Mira Nair’s 1988 “Salaam Bombay,” which is an Oliver Twist story with an unhappy twist.

  2. Gary Kramer says:

    I love — though that’s not necessarily the right word — both PIXOTE and LOS OLVIDADOS, but for me, STREETWISE, Martin Bell’s unforgettable documentary about homeless teens in Seattle is the unparallele At Risk youth film. (KIDS also comes to mind).
    There has been a recent backlash towards films like these and SALAAM BOMBAY and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE that they are “poverty porn” exploiting the very issues that the filmmakers present. I look forward to seeing SISTER, which sounds like it will escape this trap. Thanks for the recommendation.

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