12-year-old Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) lives in a Swiss ski resort with his older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux). She only works rarely and Simon has found a way of making a living by stealing from the wealthy skiers and reselling the things to the poor locals like him. When Simon is caught by seasonal worker Mike (Martin Compston), they start to work together. But it’s still a risky endeavor.
Sister is a harsh and really good film that, on the one hand, contrasts rich and poor and, on the other hand, considers families and belonging, bringing both together in a beautiful, yet sad way.
Simon is a child who doesn’t belong anywhere, and he isn’t alone in that. He certainly doesn’t belong among the rich tourists on top of the mountain where he steals without remorse in the face of their wealth and his poverty. He doesn’t belong to the seasonal workers like Mike either. They may share his poverty, but at least they have a purpose. But also below he doesn’t really belong. Louise is gone most of the time and when she is there, she takes little interest in him. Hell, Louise doesn’t belong anywhere either, so she can’t really offer him anything in that regard. There is nobody else. The other children that live in the area are equally lost.
But the film doesn’t just show the loneliness that lies in the not-belonging. It also shows the risks that come with that free-floating. When Simon is caught stealing, the owner beats him up while an entire terrace of tourists look on. Simon, outed as an “other” among them, deserves the beating – he took what belongs to them, after all, while not belonging himself. And so they watch as an adult beats a child, and holds the stolen ski helmet up like a trophy afterwards. It is a reason. It is a justification that nobody questions. They would do the same.
Simon’s hunger – the literal hunger as much as the figurative – is a driving force for him, and obvious in every scene, as is his hope that money will solve it. He buys himself food, nothing else. He tries to buy lunch for Kristin (Gillian Anderson) and her children, just so he can eat with them and experience a family life he never knew. He buys Louise clothes in the hope to keep her close. In one scene, he tries to buy her nearness directly – and the equally hungry Louise accepts (Louise who only knows her place when she works as a maid. Louise who keeps looking for a man to find her belonging).
In the end, the film ends on a note of ambivalence: are Louise and Simon looking for and finding each other in the end, or are they one opposite paths, unable to connect? I guess we would need a sequel to find out, but better let’s not. The film is excellent as is.
Summarizing: really good.