Swiss film classics

La Salamandre (1971)
Alain Tanner
Switzerland
114′
Rosemonde the Salamander is a young girl who gets by thanks to low-paid jobs of all kinds. She is suspected of attempting to kill the uncle with whom she lives. A journalist and a writer are hired to get to the bottom of this mystery, as the basis for a television film scenario. They are unsuccessful however. The truth about Rosemonde and her special appreciation of life continue to elude these two amateur detectives.
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Siamo italiani (1964)
Alexander J. Seiler
Switzerland
76′
More than 500 000 Italians live and work in Switzerland. They are considered a „problem“. An over-employed economy needs their labour – a small nation of distinct peculiarity perceives them as foreign objects. They live beyond the barrier of a different language. Discussed as a problem, they remain unknown as human beings.
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Il Bacio di Tosca (1984)
Daniel Schmid
Switzerland
87′
Giuseppe Verdi's «finest work», as he himself described it, still stands today on the Piazza Buonarroti in Milan. It is the «Casa di riposo», founded by Verdi in 1896 for «people who are less fortunate than I» - people who never made a big career, and people who have long spent their dream salaries. Today they live, all long forgotten, in a small room with a suitcase full of memories.
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Visages d'enfants (1925)
Jacques Feyder
Switzerland
117′
Faces of Children (Visages d'enfants), a masterpiece, was filmed on location in the Haut-Valais region of Switzerland, with spectacular mountain scenery adding important atmosphere to the characters' complex emotions. The film is about the effect on a sensitive boy (again Jean Forest, who is heartrending) of his mother's death and his father's remarriage.
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Heidi und Peter (1955)
Franz Schnyder
Switzerland
89′
The second part of the famous story on Heidi. Returning from Frankfurt, she applies her new knowlegdes.
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Der Berg (1990)
Markus Imhoof
Switzerland
102′
1922: For the first time, the lonely weather station on the Säntis summit is occupied by a married couple. The unemployed Joseph Manser marries the pregnant Lena overnight and thus gets the post. But the weather warden couple have an adversary who feels cheated out of the job - he wants to take command on the mountain and climbs after the two. A showdown ensues at the weather station. - The film is based on true events.
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HD Soldier Läppli (1959)
Alfred Rasser
Switzerland
112′
Läppli is arrested as a supposed opponent of the army and misses the general mobilisation. Eventually he arrives at the barracks after all. There, as HD Läppli, he drives every superior mad in record time with his obtuseness and sense of justice.
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Le retour d'Afrique (1973)
Alain Tanner
Switzerland
107′
An ode to liberated speech and to the power of words, “those one speaks to others, those one speaks in silence”, Alain Tanner’s third film is inspired by a poet and a poetic text which deeply affected him as a young director: Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, written in 1939 by Aimé Césaire. A poem extolled by the Surrealists, this seminal flow of anti-colonial thinking by the West-Indian-born poet is the bubbling spring which inspires the gestures and words of the film’s main character, Vincent (François Marthouret), a 30-year-old from Geneva.Weighed down by the monotony and boredom of his life as a well-off westerner, he sells all his possessions and decides to leave for Algeria with his fiancée. The subject is clearly that of escape from one’s place of belonging, a Rimbaudesque theme dear to Tanner, which is here directly linked to the Third Worldist discourse of the 1960s and 1970s. But the strength of the film lies in the way it turns this thinking on its head: on the eve of their departure, chance circumstances prevent the couple from leaving. Instead, they decide to pursue their dream of escape by living hidden away in their empty apartment. Again, Tanner shows that it is the inner mileage travelled that matters, not the arrival at a destination; the posing of a question rather than the answer. As the director says at the beginning of the film: “Speaking words can be an act in itself, it can also be a substitute for action.” This is an important precept for the understanding of Tanner’s cinema: poetry is a form of action, and having it in mind, reciting it, can help to give a new shape to reality: in the film’s final scene, the couple decide to have a child.
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Off season (1992)
Daniel Schmid
Switzerland
89′
The scene of the action is a closed-down, dilapidated hotel in the Swiss mountains which has been lying empty for some time. The hotel used to belong to the narrator’s grandparents, and it was there that he was born and brought up. He visits the hotel for the last tim with the intention of losing himself in memories connected with the old building.
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Der Fall (1972)
Kurt Früh
Switzerland
102′
In this Swiss film noir a private investigator stumbles onto a case involving blackmail and an oversexed, under-aged girl. He finds the girl, and, tragically, becomes involved with her.
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The Unknown Man of Shandigor (1967)
Jean-Louis Roy
Switzerland
96′
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The Lacemaker (1977)
Claude Goretta
Switzerland
103′
The shy Pomme (Isabelle Huppert) meets the philosophy student François on holiday in Normandy. François becomes her first lover and she moves in with him: head over heels in love, the young and inexperienced couple return to Paris with big dreams. But their social and cultural differences stand in the way of happiness. The student she had unconsciously saved herself for will, without meaning to, ruin Pomme.
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Messidor (1979)
Alain Tanner
Switzerland
123′
Project initially entrusted to Maurice Pialat, who had already begun to film it under the title of “Meurtrières” (see the special edition of Les Inrockuptibles devoted to Pialat), Messidor is based on a crime story which hit the headlines in France in the 1970s: two adolescent girls run away and go on a criminal spree which ends in their deaths. On the face of it, this subject is remote from the world we associate with Tanner, since a violent story of this kind and its social background would seem to impose the realistic, even naturalistic form always shunned by the Swiss director. Moreover, Tanner is instinctively averse to filming physical violence. “Killing a person”, he says, “is generally a gratuitous special effect.” Consequently, of all Tanner’s films Messidor is the only one in which someone dies of non-natural causes. It is also Tanner’s most sombre work, characterised by a despair unmitigated by his usual verbal and situational humour. This is because Tanner accepted the project only on condition that he could recast the original idea and use this violent story as a vehicle for more personal preoccupations: the limits of freedom (already treated in his previous film) are here related to the girls’ frantic flight in the Swiss countryside. What interests him is the possible sullying of this place of excessive peace and quiet, now transformed into a field of experience and criminal fun-and-games by the two characters..
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Charles mort ou vif (1969)
Alain Tanner
Switzerland
91′
The film paints the portrait of an old man who decides to abandon his comfortable bourgeois way of life and live with a Bohemian couple. There he rediscovers his freedom to think and his joie de vivre.
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Seelische Grausamkeit (1961)
Hannes Schmidhauser
Switzerland
99′
On a summer morning, the opening of the trial in the Zurich District Court is announced for 8 o'clock. On trial is the divorce case of Marlene Faber and Nick Merk. The couple is waiting outside the courtroom for their divorce and is reviewing their marriage once again: From the honeymoon over the first quarrels until the end.
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Matlosa (1981)
Villi Hermann
Switzerland
94′
Alfredo seems to lead the life of so many Ticinese families born in the valleys, who now only go back to their native village for the weekend. But Alfredo doesn’t longer experiences the journey as a form of escapism, but as an obsessive rite which is repeated over and over again. Alfredo has lost his own identity.
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