Ursula Meier‘s second feature, Sister, is currently in two theaters in New York and will be rolling out across the country through mid-January. Keith Uhlich, at the top of his recommendation in Time Out New York: “Resilient and resourceful, young Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) moves dexterously between two worlds—the street-level apartment building where he lives with his deadbeat older sister, Louise (Léa Seydoux), and the mountaintop Swiss ski resort where he steals from the vacationing rich to support his broken family. It’s a tenuous existence, one that Simon has maintained for a good while, but which is now on the verge of collapse thanks to the boy’s increasing carelessness and his own encroaching adolescence.”
“[T]he kid swipes skis, gloves, and other equipment, blending into parka-clad crowds of families,” notes Nicolas Rapold at the L. “There’s right away something intriguing, like some glimpse of rare human ecology, about this resourceful, wiry boy surviving off the seasonal swells of visitors; his need for cash for food makes the leisure activity of going downhill sound vaguely absurd. (The film’s original French title roughly translates to ‘the boy from up above,’ which in turn might be an ironic play on the political phrase connoting the rich and powerful, ‘la France d’en haut.’)”
“Trading the cooler, more emotionally detached style and vibe that characterized Home, her debut feature, about a family falling apart, Ms. Meier quietly goes for the emotional jugular in Sister,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “It’s an often touching, sometimes funny story about a pair of castaways and the moral awakening that brings them together and shows Ms. Meier under the influence of the Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne…. Gracefully, she oscillates between visual, narrative and real-world extremes—the big and the little, the rich and the poor, the grand and the base—to build a story that is simultaneously personal and political, intimate and bigger than any one life.”
Sister is “a reminder that you don’t have to travel to the Caribbean to find context-free fantasy worlds stacked crudely on top of grinding poverty,” writes Jesse Cataldo for Slant. “DP Agnès Godard further conveys this divide through a spate of bisected compositions, contrasting the blinding brightness of the mountain, where views stretch as far as the eye can see, with the gray pallor of the lifeless lowlands, where the only thing worth looking at are those remote, inaccessible slopes. It’s a visual style that comes off as a little obvious at times, an aesthetic that matches the often unsurprising arc of Simon’s travails, which finds his network of schemes and feints crumbling just in time for the requisite surge of third-act pity. Yet despite its predictability and somewhat shopworn narrative, Sister is sustained by a sturdy emotional engine and some intrepidly thoughtful characterization.”
“Meier’s too busy simply observing her characters to moralize or editorialize about them,” adds Steve Erickson in Gay City News. More from Leslie Finlay (Cinespect), Mary Pols (Time), and Scott Tobias (AV Club, B+). Miriam Bale interviews Ursula Meier and Agnès Godard for Filmmaker, and Hillary Weston talks with Léa Seydoux for BlackBook.
Update, 10/16: Stephen Saito interviews Meier.
Update, 10/27: Tom Dawson talks with Meier for Sight & Sound.
Update, 11/1: “Sister is a film of disarming naturalistic performances, striking simplicity, strong contrasts and contains a heartbreaking reveal,” writes Emma Simmonds at the Arts Desk.
The Telegraph‘s Tim Robey: “It perhaps sounds a little like a Dardennes brothers film—last year’s The Kid with a Bike comes readily to mind. But it outshines that one, because a healthy seam of mischief helps cut through the occasionally rote social comment.”
“The hearts being rent are the viewers’, as our young anti-hero moves through his obstacle course of a life with zero self-pity, only purpose,” writes David Schmader in the Stranger. “He’s a boy who could be king, if the world were entirely different from the way it is.”
“The appearance of Martin Compston, playing the young Scottish hotel chef who takes an interest in Simon’s little scams, is perhaps a sign that Meier has been influenced by the humanist cinema of Ken Loach,” suggests the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw.