The Swiss Alps have served as a backdrop for adventure and romance in such classic movies as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Sound of Music. In Ursula Meier’s Sister (opening today in Los Angeles), which is Switzerland’s official entry in this year’s Academy Awards, the famous mountain range is the setting for a darker, more personal story.
12-year old Simon (an excellent performance by Kacey Mottet Klein) is in many ways your average, precocious pre-pubescent. He spends his days hanging out with friends at the tourist-oriented ski resorts nestled high above their middle-to-lower-class homes in the valley. Simon has hit upon a novel way to support himself and his older, unemployed sister: he steals high-end skis from tourists and resells them at a considerable profit. Though it is a risky enterprise, the boy finds eager buyers in the seasonal adult workers shopping for low-cost Christmas gifts for their own kids.
Desperate for his neglectful sister’s attention, Simon gives her money and lavishes her with high-end clothing. She continues, however, to spend days at a time away with strange men. The more mature Simon strikes up friendships with a handsome cook at one of the resorts as well as with a British woman (played by Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame) on vacation with her two young sons. But once the season ends and Simon again finds himself alone, he begins to realize he has to start making some choices for his own happiness.
Sister, which also won the Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, posits the virgin-white snow and frolicsome attitudes of the resort guests in stark contrast to the somewhat incestuous, psychologically-complex relationship between Simon and his sibling (Lea Seydoux, who appeared last year in the US films Midnight in Paris and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol). Their relationship is revealed to be even more tangled, heartbreakingly so, than it initially appears. Agnes Godard’s cinematography and John Parish’s spare, acoustic music score provide strong technical support. You may be shocked, you may be moved, but you won’t easily forget Sister.
Newly out on DVDand VOD and airing tonight on the PBS series Voces is the eye-opening documentary, Lemon. It recounts the rags-to-riches-to-rags saga of poet and playwright Lemon Andersen. Born in Brooklyn to a Puerto Rican mother and Norwegian-American father (both of whom later died from AIDS), Lemon began to “take my lemons and make the best goddamn lemonade” via poetry at the age of 20 after serving time on Riker’s Island. He was discovered by producer Russell Simmons at an open mic event and was chosen to star in Simmons’ Broadway production, Def Poetry Jam, which won a 2003 Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event. Lemon received his own award as one of the cast members.
Lemon became briefly popular before the show’s closure and demons from his past intervened to derail his success. As his money ran out, Lemon found himself back in the projects. In time, though, he picked up his pen and began writing anew, hoping to stage a comeback. He has since appeared in the feature films Inside Man and The Soloist.
There aren’t many Tony Award winners who are also three-time felons, but the documentary allows Lemon’s talent and ambition to shine through. I wish co-directors Laura Brownson and Beth Levison had gone into more detail regarding his parents’ fascinating though ultimately tragic lives and the circumstances their subject was born into. Still, this Lemon-ade is worth sampling as is.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.