Directed by Ursula Meier
Set in and around an Alpine ski resort, director Meier’s second feature shows how digging into a location can go a long way. Twelve-year-old urchin Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) ekes out a living as a thief, supporting his older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux), who runs around with jerks. But rather than pick pockets in town, the kid swipes skis, gloves, and other equipment, blending into parka-clad crowds of families. There’s right away something intriguing, like some glimpse of rare human ecology, about this resourceful, wiry boy surviving off the seasonal swells of visitors; his need for cash for food makes the leisure activity of going downhill sound vaguely absurd. (The film’s original French title roughly translates to “the boy from up above,” which in turn might be an ironic play on the political phrase connoting the rich and powerful, “la France d’en haut.”)
Simon runs into trouble when he’s caught by a resort chef, a Scotsman who’s one of the staff’s foreign-born workers (an underclass all its own). But the suspense over Simon's exposure, and a somewhat predictable late reveal about Louise’s sketchily drawn character, are overshadowed by Klein’s self-possessed turn. Simon carries around the fatigue of his long hours and watchfulness: slightly hunched, eyes sunken; he has the work ethic, but he reaches compulsively for the five-fingered discount. As Simon, Klein displays the forward physical momentum of a Dardenne mini-hero.
The actor also starred in the French-Swiss director’s feature debut, Home, a more contrived exercise in which Isabelle Huppert heads up a household about to be uprooted by a new highway. Sister, just as site-specific, gets an ethereal blue nudge from Agnes Godard’s cinematography (and, oddly, features Gillian Anderson as a ski-fam mom that Simon hungrily befriends). But Meier’s film, which is Switzerland’s candidate for a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award nomination, relies most on inhabiting Simon's cramped, scrimping world.
Opens October 5