Families put under artificial strain seems to be becoming the leitmotif of French-Swiss film director Ursula Meier (not to be confused with renowned Austrian film artist Ursula Mayer). Maier (not Mayer)’s debut, Home, took an ordinary and lovely French family led by Isabelle Huppert and placed a motorway beside their house. Her latest film, L’enfant d’en haut (Sister), which screens today as part of this year’s BFI London Film Festival, is a far more complex affair set in the snowy hills of Verbier.
Simon is twelve years old. He lives in a tower block at the foothills of the French mountains with his sister Louise and supports them both by stealing from the wealthy visitors to the local ski resort. Soon, Simon is caught by seasonal worker Mike and befriends the holidaying Kristin and her two young sons. Louise’s latest on-off boyfriend becomes a friend and confidante of the small family. Unfortunately, none of this can be maintained because, ultimately, there is a thin veneer of deception upon which is built the ‘reality’ of what Simon and Louise present to the world.
Maier’s sophomore feature is a difficult film, both for audiences and presumably also for the director to have made. She is wonderfully supported by a dedicated cast who turn in equally strong performances. Considering this is a film that is carried by a fourteen year old (in only his third film) it is a revelation. Léa Seydoux, playing Louise, is our reluctantly illusory antagonist, and there are surprise turns from British actors Martin Compston and Gillian Anderson as two of the town’s seasonal visitors. L’enfant d’en haut has been receiving rave reviews and is Switzerland’s submission to the 2012 Oscars. You heard it here first.
L’enfant d’en haut (Sister) screens tonight at Vue West End as part of the 2012 BFI London Film Festival.