Review by Sean Boelman
On paper, Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond’s My Little Sister sounds like it should be sappy and melodramatic, but it’s surprisingly very compelling. A unique and refreshingly unsentimental take on the cancer drama genre, this film is moving and riveting in all the right ways.
The movie follows a woman who, having given up on her own dreams, finds herself torn between her loyalty to her recently diagnosed terminally ill brother and her husband whose career path sends him on a very different path from hers. And although the story is admittedly a bit busy, Chuat and Reymond are able to find a nice balance between the different elements.
One of the most impressive things about the film is the way in which it manages to be so restrained and subtle. The movie gets the viewer absorbed in its drama without feeling excessive or overly manipulative. There are plenty of really great scenes that work on an individual level, but when they come together into a whole, the magic really takes hold.
Admittedly, the film doesn’t do much particularly new on a thematic level, but there are plenty of moments that are extremely poignant. The movie’s exploration of mortality is particularly affecting, getting its emotional reaction in a very natural way. Admittedly, the film could have done more in relation to the broken marriage at the center of the conflict.
The one angle of the movie that is extremely underdeveloped is the perspective of the main characters’ children. There is something heartbreaking about seeing these kids go through not just one, but two traumatic events, and it’s arguably the most unique aspect of the story. It’s the aspect of the film that has the most untapped potential.
Nina Hoss gives an excellent lead performance, bringing a lot of humanity to her character. Her chemistry with her two co-stars, Lars Eidinger and Jens Albinus, is phenomenal, allowing the movie to be at its best when she shares the screen with either one of them. Of the two supporters, Edinger is arguably the standout, extremely subtle in an otherwise overt role.
Chuat and Reymond’s directorial style is very straightforward in a visual sense, emphasizing the performances over anything else. The cinematography and score are very low-key, heightening the emotion in quiet but effective ways. There are some gorgeous shots taking advantage of the Swedish scenery, though.
My Little Sister presents a unique and empathetic take on a familiar story. It’s no wonder that Switzerland chose this as their submission for the Best International Film Oscar, because it’s a smart crowd-pleaser.
My Little Sister screened at the 2020 AFI FEST which ran October 15-22.