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My Little Sister film review


Written by: Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond


Poster for 'My Little Sister', showing Lisa and Sven sitting in the back of a car. Sven's head leaning on Lisa's shoulder, wearing sunglasses and a wig.

A brilliantly performed intimate film focusing on the emotional toils of caring for a terminally ill loved one, My Little Sister champions verisimilitude over melodrama. Writer directors Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond craft the interpersonal relationships of Lisa, a former playwright now teacher, with such care that it can be disarming in its authentic direction nothing feels manufactured for drama. Lisa is brought to life by a knockout performance from Nina Hoss, packed with subtlety and fidelity. Hoss’s dramatic power is fuelled by Lisa’s complicated relationships with her twin brother Sven, a stage actor dying of cancer, and the conflict arising in her marriage to Martin, the director of a prestigious academy in Switzerland. Lisa is forced into difficult choices regarding the future of her family; with Sven’s health and Martin’s career dividing her as Chuat and Raymond capture these poignant difficulties through their filmmaking.

Hoss’s performance captures the internal tug-of-war one has when facing the inventible, this desire to believe that the better days are not behind you. Lisa is in denial of Sven’s condition, not to his pain or struggle but that the battle is over. Sven, also beautifully portrayed by Lars Eidinger is also struggling with the realisation of his mortality, trying to hold onto semblances of his former life. Though his illness can’t be avoided, as made clear from the agonisingly realistic make-up work that pushes Eidinger’s performance to another devastating level in the third act. Sven desires to return to acting after his surgery, which Lisa fully supports, as the twin’s mutual need for this becomes a metaphor for their denial. A tragic refusal to accept what’s happening, that performance can allow Sven and Lisa to hide from the pain. Lisa even returns to writing trying to will this into existence even as she can’t deny Sven’s illness worsening. She won’t give up on her brother but life always goes on which is what creates conflict with her husband Martin.

My Little Sister is neither depressing nor uplifting it is merely honest, honest in the pain of love and family. Chuat and Raymond direct such empathic performances from Hoss, Eidinger and Jens Albinus as Martin that these choices they make can be understood within the tragedy. Martin is looking to the future, one that he understands will not feature Sven and when his contract at the Swiss international school is brought up for renewal despite Lisa’s desire to move back to Berlin and help Sven, Martin is thinking long-term. It’s a conflict that can be seen as selfish but also pragmatic, it captures the frustration in how families can be torn apart by terminal illness. People that are overwrought by emotion and pain trying to make the best decisions they can in the worst time of their life. You may not agree with everything Lisa, Sven, and Martin do but you will understand it.

The filmmaking reflects this emotional adversity through its natural intimate cinematography. Filip Zumbrunn’s work that allows the script’s beautiful realism to be reflected in its visual presentation, you can’t help but be drawn in. Littered throughout are these small comforts against the pain; the gorgeous vistas of Swiss paragliding, nightclubs, gift shops, intricate tracings in sandpits, the composing of poems between siblings. It deepens the details of these characters, reflecting on how our lives are built from so many intricate little moments. All of these moments adding up to a stunning film of powerhouse performances that never breaks its hold on the audience’s empathy.

My Little Sister opens in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday 8th October.

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