At the base of a Swiss luxury ski resort, a 12-year-old boy lives in a run-down housing complex. By day, the boy stealthily submerges himself in the leisure and privilege of the resort, pinching pricey items for resale on the black market. At night, he takes care of his sister, who's old enough to be his mother but requires the type of care typically reserved for children. With tireless efficiency, the boy makes sure that she's fed (with half sandwiches plucked from the trash at the lodge), clothed (with a ski jacket swiped from the coat check), and sheltered (when he finds her passed out in a field, he presses neighborhood kids into helping him haul her home). The sister is maybe a whore. The boy is definitely a thief. The elliptical bonds of love and need that hang precariously between them are at the heart of Ursula Meier's Sister.
The film drifts across the screen with a potentially grim naturalism that's lit up by fascinating action. "Selling stolen goods" conjures images drawn from mob-movie montages, but seeing our prepubescent hustler march up to loitering groups of migrant workers and haggle over prices is something else altogether. Throughout Sister, the split between the haves and the have-nots is made clear in an appealingly lyrical fashion, with the pure white of the Alpine lodge butting up against the gray slush of the projects, and quietly heartrending scenes of our kid grifter glimpsing how the other half lives. The hearts being rent are the viewers', as our young anti-hero moves through his obstacle course of a life with zero self-pity, only purpose. He's a boy who could be king, if the world were entirely different from the way it is.