It’s not often we talk about Switzerland pulling an Oscar contender out of the bag. If you were to talk about films set in Switzerland, it’d be truly endless, but the last great Swiss film I can remember is My Life as a Courgette, so it was an exciting read when I read about another great Swiss film, My Little Sister.
Swiss duo Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond had undoubtedly pulled it out of the bag, and though it may feel strange to open a review shouting the word Oscar in the very first sentence, get fifteen minutes into My Little Sister and you’ll see why. It really is a contender for best International Film.
A tender, domestic drama, My Little Sister is a beautifully honest and brutal portrayal of terminal illness. Uniquely it centres predominantly not on the patient, but on his sister Lisa (Nina Hoss). A gifted playwright from Berlin, she is immediately shown providing a bone marrow transfusion for her brother Sven (Lars Eidinger), who is a hugely talented and successful actor at one of Berlin’s premier theatres. Lisa is in limbo, taking a break from her writing to support her husband’s career at a prodigious school in Switzerland. Now throwing herself into her brother’s recover she is torn between a fractured marriage and his care.
Her brother, Sven fights an emotional battle, determined to take himself back to the stage, her husband desperate to maintain his life in Switzerland and keep his family together. With no support from a mother with issues of her own, we see Lisa fight battles on every front, but she never ever stops. This is the tale of a modern woman, struggling to define herself and her career, whilst still trying to support the men in her life. Lisa is a warrior.
The beauty in My Little Sister is found in the intimate portrayal of siblingship. It is raw and fractious, but ultimately unending and without question. Despite their differences they remain in this together as they battle treatments, their mother and those who doubt Sven’s stregnth and as he tries to inspire her to write again.
Nina Hoss, Lars Eidinger and Jens Albinus give Oscar worthy performances individually, but together the cast’s performances and beyond words. Nina Hoss is able to convey countless emotions through one look as Lisa journeys through terminal illness, fractures families and fractured relationship and trying to keep it all together. Lars shows weakness and determination throughout and during the inevitable breakdown it is believable as Chuat and Raymond keep it realistic and never take it over the top or try to force a significant moment.
The emotion is accentuated throughout with a classical score that perfectly signal the necessary emotions to the viewer as often few words are spoken, or in truth, needed. Though we don’t know much about their lives before this point, or their childhood, I don’t think this is lost. Subtle touches, glances and moments perfectly articulate how we reached the position we have. The relationship is shown through actions, not scripted for us on page.
Chuat and Reymond prove the perfect team for this tale. In the hands of many others this could have been a stale boring tale, as really, very little happens and this is just normal life. There are few Hollywood drama moments, and for that I’m thankful. Instead this directorial team have piece together the drama of real life and created a truly magnificent piece of art that is apt for their artistic characters.
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