ASPEN - Those of us who live in and around Aspen aren't going to be shocked by the underlying premise of "Sister": that even in a postcard-perfect ski village there is a social underclass, living out of sight of the tourists whose wealth feeds the resort. That familiarity with ski-town dynamics is, possibly, an advantage in watching this thought-provoking film by French-Swiss filmmaker Ursula Meier. Rather than getting caught up in the idea that ski resorts actually do include a population of cooks, ski tuners, house cleaners and criminals - which is simply a backdrop element here - we can focus on the heart of the movie, a complex relationship between two troubled people.
For anyone who skis, Simon is the sort of small-time crook you try to banish from your mind. The 12-year-old spends his days on the slopes lifting other people's gear, with a sharp eye for the best, newest skis. The actor who plays Simon, Kacey Mottet Klein, is excellent in the role, and our first glimpse of him tells us that Simon isn't stealing for fun. Thin, with a rodent-like face and a knack for staying out of sight, Simon gives off a distinct air of insecurity and loneliness. We know things are not right back at home.
But Simon is also, in a desperate way, resourceful, with clever methods of stashing his stolen goods, transporting them off the mountain and hauling them home on a dinky sled. Home is a shabby apartment in a low-budget high-rise (let's say thanks for Aspen's building codes) where there are plenty of kids to sell skis and gloves to, but there are no parents. Instead there is Simon's older sister, Louise (Lea Seydoux) - pretty, and dressed in a way (short skirt, high boots) that advertises her availability.
Much of "Sister" follows Simon and Louise going about their separate business. Simon steals, schleps his inventory down a bleak highway, gets caught by an opportunistic cook from the on-mountain restaurant. Among the most revealing things he does is pretend to be someone else, telling a visiting family that his father owns a local hotel. Louise smokes cigarettes and is dropped off and picked up at the apartment in a series of different cars.
As "Sister" progresses, Simon and Louise's paths cross more, and the more they interact, the more elements are teased out of their relationship: dependence, manipulation, superiority. Their entanglement is disturbing, but it is also well-observed. It is, ultimately, even more complicated than we expect, and "Sister" becomes a resonant study in the identities we adopt to deal with our difficult circumstances.