While there are deep-running roots to De Sica or Renoir, Sister is the kind of starkly lyrical European social drama that is impossible to watch without thinking of the work of the Dardenne brothers. Set in the French-Swiss Alps, Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) is an 11-year-old kid who spends his days during the ski season up in a mountain top resort snatching skis and equipment from the unsuspecting well-healed. Then, he literally descends from the mountaintop to his rough-and-tumble life in the valley, sharing a small apartment in a lonely, charmless high rise with his sister Louise (Lea Seydoux), and selling the stolen goods to neighborhood kids. Along the way, Simon gets in cahoots with a resort chef, while his sister philanders down valley with a variety of men. It’s a quicksand situation.
As with the Dardenne’s films, Ursula Meier brings a documentary feel to her film, that nonetheless captures something elegiac with its matter-of-fact, but often lovely cinematography. And like a verite documentary, the crux of Sister’s story is slow to bloom. Instead we spend a lot of time just being in this world, getting intimate with its daily struggles, and attuned to the stark divergences between classes in European society, though Sister’s soft touch also causes the film to drag a bit. Aa somewhat unexpected twist finally reveals the subtle dynamics Meier is seeking to explore. Sister emerges a carefully balanced exploration of the nature of familial relationships, how we assume roles out of necessity, often at the expense of the nurturing and love we so badly need. But in the case of these hard luck characters, it is a love we come to believe they will never find.