Producer: Ruth Waldburger Directors: Stéphanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond Screenplay: Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond Cast: Nina Hoss, Lars Eidinger, Marthe Keller, Jens Albinus, Thomas Ostermeier, Linne-Lu Lungershausen, Noah Tscharland and Moritz Gottwald Distributor: Film Movement
A dramatically wrenching but, for the most part, sensitively told story of twins confronting one’s potentially terminal illness, this second film from the writing-directing team of Stéphanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond avoids mawkishness while delivering a strong emotional impact.
Nina Hoss and Lars Eidinger play Lisa and Sven Nielsen; he’s two whole minutes older than she. He’s a famous stage actor, long active at Berlin’s Schaubühne, who is suffering from leukemia. She is a playwright who has put her writing on hold to accompany her husband Martin (Jens Albinus) to the Swiss city of Leysin, where he’s taken a post as headmaster at a posh prep school. They have two adorable children, Linne-Lu and Noah (Linne-Lu Lungershausen and Noah Tscharland).
Lisa has travelled to Berlin to provide a bone marrow transplant for Sven, a treatment looked on with optimism by his doctors. Because their mother Kathy (Marthe Keller), who was also involved in theatre, seems incapable of caring for her son, Lisa takes him back to Leysin, where he’s welcomed reasonably well by Martin and enthusiastically by his niece and nephew.
Unfortunately, his condition worsens, and finally it’s determined that the marrow transplant has not has the desired effect. Doctors suggest some alternate strategies, but Sven decides to decline them, preferring to accept what he considers inevitable.
Lisa chooses to accompany him back to Berlin, exacerbating a conflict that’s already erupted between her and Martin. (When they’d moved to Switzerland, he’d agreed that that it would be a temporary relocation, after which they’d return to Berlin. Now he’s reneging on the promise, reluctant to give up his cushy post and arguing that she can, after all, write anywhere.) She takes the children with her, setting up an inevitable confrontation.
But Lisa is not merely intent on nursing Sven. She wants to encourage his recovery by getting him back onstage. She’d already tried to convince David (Thomas Ostermeier), unsuccessfully, that he should take on the role of Hamlet now entrusted to his erstwhile understudy (Moritz Gottwald). Now she proposes to write a piece designed for her brother—a monologue based on Hansel and Gretel. David rejects the idea. And Martin shows up to reclaim the kids.
All of this is dramatic, but it never becomes melodramatic, because of the cultivated direction of Chuat and Reymond and the superbly nuanced performances by Hoss and Eidinger, who even look remarkably alike. Keller adds some semi-comic garrulity to the mix, and the children are charming. Albinus and Ostermeier are both fine, though neither is as distinctive as the others.
There are a few missteps in “My Little Sister,” most notably a paragliding sequence that’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Filip Zumbrunn but in narrative terms seems more like a stunt than a necessity. Otherwise the technical side is excellent, with Myriam Rachmuth’s editing particularly sharp. Both Marie-Claude Lang Brenguier’s production design and the score—consisting of original music by Christian Garcia-Gaucher and some classical insertions, including Brahms’s song “Schwesterlein” (or “Little Sister”)—are excellent.
“My Little Sister” doesn’t pull its punches and as such can be hard to watch, but by avoiding sentimentality it remains honest and direct.