This time the nerve centre of the narrative are a brother and sister who feed off a love-hate relationship, mutually dependent but, at the same time, each incapable of accepting the presence of the other. The deep and mysterious bond that unites the two hovers over Ursula Meier’s new work like a stifled scream. The viewer will only discover at the end the difficult secret that binds Simon and Louise, ostracised human beings, incapable of dealing with a social, family and human context, which has, by now, excluded them.
Simon, a twelve year-old boy, is waiting for the winter in order to start his little scams. The cable-car that joins the desolate industrial site, where he lives with his sister Louise, and the rich ski resort, which dominates it from above, is his shuttle link to paradise. In this golden universe Simon steals skis and sports equipment from the rich tourists in order to re-sell them to the children of his tower block, so making a meagre but regular profit. Louise, who has recently lost her job, takes advantage of Simon’s scams. Her dependence on her younger brother becomes continually stronger, and the risks he takes to meet their everyday needs becomes ever greater.
The boy, played magnificently by the young Kacey Mottet Klein, suffers from a lack of affection, of the maternal warmth that was denied to him: a solitary hero who cannot allow himself to live an innocent life. Adults do not exist in this brother and sister’s claustrophobic and atrophied cell. Their lives lack the support of parents (apparently killed in a car accident). Our anti-heroes can only count on their own strength It is as if the solitude and the desolation of the environment where they live, has swallowed them up. Simon has to pretend in order to survive: pretend to be a tough guy with his friends; pretend to be a man when in reality he is nothing more than a child. Louise sells her body for a few crumbs of affection and escapes from her responsibilities, taking advantage of the earnings her accomplice-brother derives from his small thefts. The girl, played (wonderfully) by Léa Seydoux, is difficult and violent, a contrast to Simon, to whom the viewer immediately feels close. The French actress ably manages to develop the character of Louise with a humane “je ne sais quoi” in spite of the ambiguity of her actions and the complex and involved relationship with her brother, a relationship at times cruel and incomprehensible. Simon and Louise hide behind multiple facades: they are actors in a life they have constructed themselves. Everything seems “décalé”, inappropriate and, at times, unwholesome.
In spite of the harshness of the subject, Ursula Meier does not fall into the trap of a tendency to misery or melodrama, but pertinently analyses the impact of money on human relationships; the violence that underpins class difference; the harsh contrast between wealth and poverty. Everything is filmed without pathos, with a camera which is both friend and enemy, compassionate and implacable in observing even the smallest gestures the characters make. Meier’s camera is a well-honed razor that sections reality without false modesty. At times, her cinema calls to mind that of Cassavetes and Alain Tanner (for whom she was assistant director), or Bresson, in her ability to show the misery of a childhood denied. The musical film score by John Parish is stupendous and enriches the mysterious images of the Swiss mountains and the desolate suburb with a rock ‘n’ roll touch, divine in its rugged and unsettling swing, which underlines the untamed and indomitable character of our Ursula… A true warrior with a seductive and captivating gaze which never fails to amaze us.