Starring: Kacey Mottet Klein, Léa Seydoux, Gillian Anderson
Director: Ursula Meier
Running Time: 97 mins
Sister (L’enfant d’en haut) is a Swiss film about a boy who steals from wealthy guests in a luxury Alpine ski resort to support himself and his sister, who live at the foot of the mountain in a tower block.
While Sister may have all the hallmarks of a more run-of-the-mill social drama, its unorthodox setting and striking metaphors make it an eye-catching watch. While its narrative doesn’t quite pack the dramatic power that you might expect, and ultimately misses the mark with some of its more hard-hitting, dark ideas, Sister does provide a unique look at the struggles of poverty and the devastating realities of wealth disparity in the modern day, all the while impressing with down-to-earth, engaging drama throughout.
I won’t say that I was blown away by Sister, because it doesn’t really have the intense, almost soul-destroying power of stronger social dramas (for example the brilliantly devastating Two Days, One Night). But that’s not to say it’s totally devoid of dramatic impact, as it impresses with a striking and most importantly level-headed depiction of real-world struggles.
Many social dramas have a tendency to lean hard on the wholly hopeless, devastating reality of their subject matter to such an extent that it comes off as melodramatic, forced or even preachy. Now, while I think Sister doesn’t quite do enough in that regard, its down-to-earth qualities are far more effective in delivering its message than if it were in any way melodramatic.
Keeping its head focused closely on the sobering realities of a young boy and girl trying to fend for themselves in the wider world, the film comes up with captivating drama as it pits the earnest intentions of two people struggling to survive against what it sees as the selfish, unfeeling perspectives of those in the upper classes.
But not only does Sister provide sobering, down-to-earth drama, throughout, but its most striking suit arguably lies in its relatively unorthodox setting. While many poverty dramas focus on the strife of those in either inner city neighbourhoods or isolated rural communities, Sister offers an eye-catching juxtaposition between the typical perception of an Alpine ski region – typically seen as a haven of endless wealth – and the hardships of those struggling to make ends meet just metres away.
The film comes up with a striking (albeit rather blatant) metaphor that contrasts the lives of the wealthy on top of the mountain with the lives of our two main characters down below. Using that physical space for dramatic effect is rather impressive, and although the narrative doesn’t ever come up with the same degree of ingenuity or eye-catching ideas, that core metaphor allows you to remain engrossed in the drama throughout, and understand both the immense gap between rich and poor (physically and metaphorically), as well as the reality that even in place that you might consider as fountains of wealth, there are people struggling too.
In that, Sister is a film filled with strong ideas and worthy drama, but where it impresses in a cinematic regard, it never quite hits home on an emotional level. It’s an engaging watch, but with a fairly slow pace and a repetitive narrative that follows the young boy’s journey to steal things from the ski resort on a daily basis, the movie never really builds much tension or bubbling drama, instead playing out in a rather flat, linear manner throughout.
As a result, I found Sister an engaging watch, and was impressed by some of its more unorthodox takes on a well-trodden subject matter, however it never really hits home on a deeper, emotional level. It fortunately steers clear of melodrama, but it comes up a little underwhelming in the end, lacking the sheer power of stronger films in the genre, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.2.