My Little Sister review – terrific, prickly sibling drama

This is rather special. A relationship – that between adult twins – which is infrequently explored in cinema; a pairing, in Nina Hoss and Lars Eidinger, of two of the finest German actors currently working; and a directorial approach, from , defined by a rare emotional intelligence.

The Swiss submission for last year’s foreign language Oscar is a terrific, prickly drama about family ties tested to the limits by the cancer diagnosis of Sven (Eidinger), the twin brother of Lisa (Hoss). Before even a line of dialogue is spoken, the film fleshes out the bond between them in the way the camera flows, like the blood in a transfusion, and in the way their smiles exactly mirror each other.

Theatre is in the blood they share. Sven is an actor who hopes to reclaim Hamlet’s crown as soon as his cancer is in remission. Lisa is a celebrated playwright. And their mother, Kathy, played by a gloriously toxic Marthe Keller, is a grand dame of theatre whose idea of an appropriate response to a medical emergency is to make a round of kir royales. Maternal instinct not being Kathy’s strong point, it falls to Lisa to care for Sven, a role that prises her away from her marriage to Martin (Jens Albinus), the principal of an elite Swiss school, and draws her back to her former life in Berlin. A collision is inevitable, but even so, the film’s climax is unexpectedly devastating.