Resilient and resourceful, young Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) moves dexterously between two worlds—the street-level apartment building where he lives with his deadbeat older sister, Louise (Léa Seydoux), and the mountaintop Swiss ski resort where he steals from the vacationing rich to support his broken family. It’s a tenuous existence, one that Simon has maintained for a good while, but which is now on the verge of collapse thanks to the boy’s increasing carelessness and his own encroaching adolescence.
Director Ursula Meier deftly explores the character’s fracturing sense of self while grounding him in a vividly realized locale. The brilliant cinematographer Agnès Godard makes the snowcapped peaks look Olympus-like in their oppressive grandeur, heightening the divide between Simon and the people he sneaks among, one of them an alternately motherly and arrogant mark played beautifully by Gillian Anderson. But thankfully, Meier doesn’t lean as heavily here on rigid metaphor as she did with the abandoned-freeway setting of her promising yet flawed 2008 debut, Home. This is a much more fluid film, where people and place are organically inextricable; when Simon blurts out a shocking midmovie confession, it feels like the entire world is seismically shifting.
If there’s a criticism to be made, it’s that the overall project seems a bit too derivative of one of the Dardennes brothers’ features, absent the stirring spiritual dimension that lifts their working-class melodramas to profound heights. But that’s a minor nit. Meier is clearly carving out a path all her own; the next one should be a gem.
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