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L'Enfant d'en haut
An aching, erudite drama about siblings living in an industrial valley at the base of a luxury ski resort in Switzerland.
Even if a screening is sold out, tickets are often available 30 minutes before the start of the film at the box office at each venue.
Ursula Meier follows up her debut feature Home with an aching, erudite drama about a 12-year-old boy who lives with his sister in an industrial valley at the base of a luxury ski resort in Switzerland. Simon (a riveting performance from Kacey Mottet Klein) is a brazen and clever thief who spends his days on the mountain snaffling gear from the wealthy tourists and reselling it down below. His sister (Léa Seydoux) is reckless and irresponsible, but her dependency on his enterprise gives Simon a sense of purpose. When Simon becomes fascinated by a woman on the slopes (Gillian Anderson), something shifts irrevocably and he is forced to confront his sister with the truth. The mountain setting is a breath-taking contrast to the suffocating intimacy of the cramped apartment the siblings share and this spatial tension is amplified by both Agnes Godard’s (Beau Travail) ravishing cinematography and John Parish’s discordant score. Berlin Special Award winner.
Long after I had started on the story of Sister, the memory of a young boy suddenly came back to me. I grew up in the shadow of the Jura mountains, where going up to a winter resort to ski was a very ordinary thing to do and part of our everyday life. There was a boy who often used to come skiing on his own, whilst we were always in a group. He skied very poorly, yet blasted flat-out down the pistes, as if he was getting high from the speed and risk. He seemed to derive such pleasure from being ‘up there’. This boy intrigued me, and then I found out that he was banned from the mountain restaurants because he was suspected of stealing from customers. The people who worked in the resort advised us to keep an eye on our things and to keep away from him. But this little thief continued to fascinate me, perhaps because he didn’t really belong in such a setting, not coming from the social class that has the money to pay for ski equipment and lift passes. His stealing carried on and he ended up being permanently banned from riding up to the resort in the cable car. This young thief – without any friends, skiing like a madman on the snow-covered pistes of the Jura – remained an anonymous mystery for me. At the time, I was barely twelve-years-old, the same age as Simon in the film, and I still remember him. After directing a horizontal film – Home, set along a highway in a parallel world which rolls past a few yards from a family’s windows – I wanted to direct a vertical film built around the continual movement between ‘down below’ and ‘up top’; between an industrial plain and a ski resort in the mountains. The link between these two worlds is a cable car that glides through the void from one to the other, climbing towards the light then dropping back down into the layer of clouds. Up top is the domain of rich tourists who’ve come from around the world to have fun in the sun in a snowy wonderland. Down below, the industrial plain is perpetually in shade. The snow has melted, its chimneys will soon no longer belch out their smoke, its housing blocks isolated at the foot of the mountains. Just as in Home, the story of Sister is inseparable from its location, which is not simply a setting but which serves to carry the narrative. It was key for me at the early stages of the project to find the film’s form and its energy; what makes its tick, its core. It’s not a case of content on the one hand and form on the other, but an alchemy between the two, which comes into play from the beginnings of the project and the first lines of writing. Sister tells the story of child who wants to go up in the world, in every sense of the word, he’s seeking physical, social and financial elevation. While the world down below is nothing but desolation, mud and fog – both literally and symbolically – up top is a garden of delights. Sun, immaculate snow, money, flashiness. Simon feels important up there, whilst remaining anonymous behind his stolen ski goggles. It’s as if he is on stage in a theatre: he has a role, inventing a life for himself with rich parents, in the limelight, wearing a costume. Down below, Simon has a minor role, which he accepts without complaint, understanding that it’s better to have a small role alongside Louise than no role at all. Throughout the film, Simon is torn between up top and down below. His many comings and goings in the local cable car which links the plain with the ski resort punctuate the film and give it its heartbeat. While Simon wants to elevate himself and succeed, Louise is drawn downwards. Disappointed with life and angry at the world of work and men, life doesn’t seem to have given her many breaks. Instead of fighting back and struggling through, Louise has chosen to opt out, to just let things happen and to live from day to day. She doesn’t try to sort her life out, but instead is continually fleeing towards the horizon, taking the highway that runs along the mountainside. It is down this highway that she returns after a long absence. The meeting point between up top and down below, between the cable car station and the highway (the vertical and the horizontal), is Simon’s locker located at the foot of the cable car. This locker is Simon’s dressing room: it is here that he changes, transforms himself to resume his identity as the boy from below, or to become a child from up top, with a middle-class appearance, polite, obliging, but a little thief...
Born in 1971 in Besançon, France, she studied Film & TV at the Institut des Arts de Diffusion, Belgium, from 1990-94. She worked as second assistant director on Alain Tanner’s Fourbi (1995) and Jonas et Lila, à demain (1999). She directed three short films as well as two feature documentaries and one television film for Arte, Des épaules solides, prior to premiering her first feature film Home in Critics Week at Cannes in 2008. The film won numerous awards around the world. including the Swiss Oscar for Best Film, and starred Kacey Mottet Klein, who plays young Simon in Sister.
1994 À corps perdu (To a Lost Body [s; co-d]; Le Songe d'Isaac [s]
Read the Time Out review.
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