Stripped of its titles, Ursula Meier’s second feature could be easily mistaken for one of the Dardenne brothers’ clinical observations of a childhood gone adrift. But while her camera watches with the same intimate but dispassionate gaze, Meier discovers moments of joy and play, bleakness and threat in an adolescence set free from parental or societal discipline.
Kacey Mottet Klein navigates deftly between naiveté and cynicism with her main character Simon, a 12-year-old thief who preys on tourists at a ski lodge by rifling through their coats and backpacks and reselling their equipment. He lives alone with his sister Louise (Léa Seydoux), whom he futilely tries to mold into an authority figure despite her resistance to any form of responsibility. She tends to disappear for days on end, leaving Simon to fend for himself. He is eminently resourceful, scampering unnoticed among tourists like a scavenging mouse, occasionally latching onto one of them — like a wary Gillian Anderson — in search of nurturing. The sibling relationship is the key one, however, and Meier slowly peels away its complex, painful layers without ever pleading for sympathy. It’s a quietly moving, emotionally stark view of a young boy navigating his world that would have made Truffaut proud.