To continue to be or to cease being is just one question animating this elegantly constructed meditation on family, identity, filial boundaries and ethical obligation. Written and directed by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond with superb control and insight, “My Little Sister” never goes precisely where the audience expects, as the filmmakers dole out crucial information at well-timed intervals, illuminating the pieces of Lisa and Sven’s past that have brought them to this life-or-death point.
The title of “My Little Sister” is something of a misdirect: Although it suggests the film unfolds from Sven’s point of view, it's actually an intensively subjective portrait of a woman who is a consummate caretaker, fetching her brother from the hospital, delivering him to their monstrously disinterested mother (a self-involved former actress played by Marthe Keller) and, finally taking him to Leysin, Switzerland, where she’s been living with her husband Martin (Jens Albinus) and two kids. At one point, “My Little Sister” takes flight to breathtaking effect, when Sven and Martin go paragliding in the Alps. With its attractive settings and handsome interiors, the film epitomizes the sophistication and restraint U.S. filmgoers have traditionally associated with European films that sought to engross rather than transgress.
In fact, “My Little Sister” engages that question directly, as Lisa is put in the middle of a psychic tug-of-war between bourgeois comfort and her bohemian roots, a debate that Hoss and Eidinger join with the convincing tartness of lifelong intimacy. It turns out that “Hamlet” isn't invoked nearly as often as “Hansel and Gretel,” a fable echoed throughout the film in the form of different forms of abandonment and, amusingly, a pan of burned gingerbread. That's the only thing overbaked in “My Little Sister,” in which insights regarding sibling love and loyalty expand to include the psychology of acting and its dependency on others’ desire and approval. It's through art that Lisa finally discovers the potential for healing, and the life she saves may very well be her own.