Incest, voyeurism and videotape are the compelling ingredients of “Little Sister,” a micro-budget, independent Dutch feature shot entirely with subjective camera. While the device has been around some time (since 1947 at least, when Robert Montgomery filmed “Lady in the Lake” through Philip Marlowe’s eyes), the material is kept from becoming merely an exercise in technique by the intriguing power shifts negotiated between the title character and her unhealthily obsessed brother.
Winner of three Dutch Film Festival awards including best film in Utrecht this fall, and a jury prize winner at the Turin and Thessaloniki fests, this family affair marks an attention-getting bow for first-time director Robert Jan Westdijk. Further fest-circuit exposure may lead to limited theatrical and TV sales.
For most of the film, the sister-fixated protagonist, Martin (Hugo Metsers III), is represented by his video camera. Constantly filming, he dances frenetically around the object of his affections, Daantje (Kim van Kooten), after bullying his way back into her life following a long absence. Martin is seen only when the camera falls into other hands or is left stationary.
The film’s tone is almost playful at first, with Daantje’s attitude toward her brother and his camera bouncing between indulgence and irritation. But a vaguely menacing tension creeps in as the hint of sexual frisson between them darkens to reveal a shared secret that Daantje would prefer to keep locked away. An old Super-8 film replays a scene from many years earlier, when their parents came to Daantje’s room on the morning of her birthday and found brother and sister frolicking naked in bed.
Daantje attempts to keep the unpredictable Martin at arm’s length, pursuing a relationship with Ramon (Roeland Fernhout), whose initial amusement and tolerance of her ever-present sibling soon wear thin. With psychological manipulation and some deceptive editing of an incriminating videotape, Martin alienates Ramon and then Daantje’s friend Ingeborg (Ganna Veenhuysen). But when his sister wises up to his game, she takes control of the camera and turns the tables on him, ultimately revealing the true nature of their childhood tryst.
The edgy scenario is well sustained by Westdijk and Jos Driessen’s often humorous script and by the appealing quartet of young actors, almost all of whom are making their first appearances in a feature film. Van Kooten is especially good, playing directly to the camera during most of the action and effortlessly shifting between teasing, traumatized and empowered states. Fernhout supplies a goofy charm that serves his character well. Energetically shot on Betacam SP and transferred to 35mm, the film makes fundamental assets of its manic camerawork and brisk editing. Visual quality of the blowup is excellent.