Sister, Ursula Meier, 97 mins (15)
Elena, Andrey Zvyagintsev, 109 mins (12A)
The last resort – ain’t no mountain high enough in this bleak Alpine drama
Sunday 28 October 2012
Usually, when an Alpine ski resort features in a film, James Bond is hurtling through it with a trio of Spectre agents in hot pursuit. But in Sister we see what it's like to live in such a resort all year round, even when the snow and the tourists have melted away.
Well, to live near one, anyway: in Ursula Meier's compassionate drama, the 12-year-old protagonist (Kacey Mottet Klein) is actually trapped in a run-down town at the bottom of a Swiss mountain, far below the luxury chalets and après-ski. How's that for a symbol of the distance between the haves and the have-nots? His parents are nowhere to be seen, and his older sister (Léa Seydoux) would rather go off with unsuitable men than get a job, so Klein has to support them both. Every morning he rides the cable car up to the resort, where he swipes skis, gloves and goggles from unwary holidaymakers, and then sells them to his friends in town.
The runty, big-eared Klein is a strangely sympathetic thief – young and naive enough to believe that he's just helping out his adored sister, and that his victims won't miss what he takes from them. Besides, money matters less to him than the chance to visit a different, happier world.
At several points in the film, it looks as if his life might change, such as when he encounters Martin Compston's chef, who fancies himself as a Fagin to the boy's Artful Dodger, or when he befriends Gillian Anderson, a well-groomed tourist who represents the familial closeness he dreams of. But neither of these relationships takes the story in a new direction. Meier, who made documentaries before she turned to fiction with the marvellous Home in 2008, simply shows us Klein's existence, but she doesn't reassure us that it's going to improve. He may take the cable car up the mountain each day, but he's always got to take it back down again.
Another drama about the gap between rich and poor, Elena is a film noir with a contemporary Russian twist: its scheming femme fatale is a modest, stocky, 60-year-old housewife (Nadezhda Markina). She was once her wealthy husband's nurse, but even now that they're married, there's no forgetting which side of the tracks she came from: her son from a previous marriage – much like the boy in Sister – subsists in a cramped high-rise flat in the suburbs. It would take a small fortune to turn his life around, but Markina's husband (Andrey Smirnov) is reluctant to pay up. And when his own estranged, wild-child daughter comes back into the picture, Markina realises that she may have to take drastic measures.
Elena is a model of cool, elegant restraint: it observes its murder plot with the same clinical detachment as it observes Smirnov's drive to the gym. This aloofness gives you chills for days after you've seen the film, but while you're watching, it's too cold to grip you as tightly as a classic noir.
It also leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth. Its condemnation of the working classes as ignorant spongers will go down better at the Daily Mail than it will around these parts.
Nicholas Barber sees Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone, the new film from Jacques Audiard, director of A Prophet
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Indian footballer Peter Biaksangzuala dies after injuring spine doing somersault celebration
- 2 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 3 Drink alcohol and eat meat to improve male fertility - but cut down on coffee, studies suggest
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Lynda Bellingham dead: Loose Women presenter dies after battle with colon cancer
Breaking Bad season 6 is still not happening
Doctor Who, Flatline - review: Clara isn’t half bad as the Time Lord
Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 5: Period drama falls disappointingly flat
Star Wars Episode 7 has almost finished filming
X Factor 2014 results: Chloe Jasmine and Stephanie Nala sent home
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Sorry Judy Finnigan – Ched Evans is no less sickening than an alleyway rapist
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Workers 'could be forced to pay £5 a week' to get benefits
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'