How Low Can You Go?

In ‘Sister,’ class issues, petty theft and new definitions of family collide on a mountain

Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein), left, steals ski equipment at a Swiss resort to survive in Ursula Meier’s “Sister.”

Director Ursula Meier’s new drama “Sister” is about the literal ups and downs of life in a Swiss ski resort.

The film’s French title, “L’enfant d’en Haut,” translates as “The Child From the Heights.” The child in question is Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein), a preteen who lives with his sister, Louise, in a valley so saturated with smog, they can barely see the mountain that looms above them.

“I know this part of Switzerland,” Meier says. “You look up and there is a world with very rich kids, a ski station where people come around the world just to ski there.” People in the valley “never go up because they don’t have the money, and you have people who never go down.”

Simon, who supplements his sister’s wages by stealing high-end gear and reselling it, is the only character who moves between both worlds.

For Simon, money can buy you love: His sister (Lea Seydoux) depends on the funds he brings in. “With the money, he buys Louise,” Meier says. “With the money, she stays, and [Simon] is like a father, like a boss, because of the money.”

This relationship between money and family is highlighted when Simon runs into a vacationing family that invites him to lunch. The mother (Gillian Anderson) “is the ideal mother for Simon,” Klein says through an interpreter. “She’s pretty, she’s rich, her kids can have all they want. She is also very tender to her kids, and Simon feels that is something he is missing.”

After lunch, Simon breaks out some of his hard-earned cash and attempts to pay, much to the confusion of Anderson’s character. But it makes perfect sense to Simon — and to Meier.

“He thinks when you are happy, when you taste that family happiness, then you have to pay,” she says.

That clash of sensibilities echoes through the film, where Meier constantly plays the beauty of the mountain against Simon’s situation.

“In the beginning, you are in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and [then] I shoot twice in toilets in two minutes,” Meier says. “I’m very proud of that. I was filming basically the bottom of the social pyramid in the highest social environment.”

Spotlight: Kacey Mottet Klein, who plays Simon, has been making festival rounds in Europe and America for nearly a year now. But it’s not old hat to him yet. “I’ll never say I’m used to [press interviews] because I don’t want to be arrogant,” Klein says. “Even if I reach the top level, I’ll never say that I’m used to it. I really dislike that attitude.”

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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