J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Ursula Meier’s Sister


Simon is definitely from the wrong side of the ski lift.  While some kneejerk critics will rush to call him part of Switzerland’s 99%, he was not done a lot of favors by broken homes led by single parental figures that prioritize self-indulgence over responsibility.  In fact, his only family is the title character of Ursula Meier’s Sister (trailer here), Switzerland’s official foreign language Academy Award submission, which opens this Friday in New York.

Simon lives with Louise in a high rise project in the valley beneath an upscale ski resort.  Just about every day Simon rides up to the ski lodge where he steals high end gear.  It might be ethically problematic, but at least it constitutes a job.  That is usually more than Louise can lay claim to, spending most of her time partying with men she knows are only after one thing.  Indeed, it is the younger Simon who takes care of the older Louise, not vice versa.

This might be Simon’s reality, but he realizes something is not right with the picture.  He has a yearning for something more stable and supportive, which is why he develops an attachment to the wealthy single English mother he meets during his slope prowling.  Consider it a parental crush.  Though far from perfect, Simon’s life with Louise is not at an equilibrium point.  Her self-sabotaging behavior is not sustainable.  Nor is Simon’s chosen line of work.

If you are looking for a light comedy with a pat happy ending, Sister is profoundly wrong for you.  On the other hand, it is a rather remarkable showcase for young Kacey Motten Klein’s acting chops as Simon.  It is also interesting to see Gillian Anderson pop-up in another European production, playing the English woman, who could represent a variation on her Miss Havisham in Masterpiece’s Great Expectations.  Frankly, she is rather good in a role intended to be frustrating.  Yet, she is nothing compared to Léa Sedoux’s Louise, a depressingly realistic portrait of self-centered arrested development.

While Sister’s warmed over class consciousness gets a bit stale, particularly when the titular Louise begs for a strong dose of root-hog-or-die tough love, Klein, Seydoux, and even Anderson deliver consistently fine work.  Though not exactly shocking, Meier handles the third act revelations quite smoothly, building towards a surprisingly powerful (and cinematic) payoff.  Recommended for those who appreciate naturalistic family dramas, Sister opens tomorrow (10/5) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.

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