Locarno 2012 Diary: Swiss Films Starring Switzerland

Posted by Claudia Piwecki on 8.15.2012


Image Problem.

Switzerland has chocolate, watches, banks, mountains, cheese, and Roger Federer. It also has films, and at the film festival in Locarno, they were shown in the specific section "Appellation Suisse," but some of them also participated in the major categories. One of them comes up with stereotypes that must be new for people from places that are not adjoined to the small country and leads Switzerland to have an Image Problem.

Image Problem is the only Swiss film in the Concorso internazionale section. Simon Baumann and Andreas Pfiffner wanted to make a film about the positive aspects of Switzerland. They end up finding the bad ones and they are facing an image problem. That is how the satirical documentary begins and brings the two filmmakers throughout one year to different places in German-speaking Switzerland. They completely leave out the French, Italian and Retoroman (Switzerland’s fourth language) speaking part – where actually most of the mountains and watch production are – which shows that this movie does not make an overall statement. The film focuses on the arising negative qualities of Swiss people who are said to be boring, bourgeois, narrow-minded and xenophobic. Their search for Switzerland’s positive image brings them from people on the street to wealthy mansion owners on the Gold Coast (Zurich’s rich area) to official presenters of Switzerland. After recording many racist expressions, Baumann and Pfiffner design a letter of excuse to the immigrants. They don’t really make a point with that, but finally a topic is on the table that is urged to be expressed. The fact that people had been manipulated by the filmmakers hits a crucial point: why would they have to do that in order to make people express their honest opinion? Here, one may find parallels to Michael Moore. In the end, they cast a modern Helvetia, the allegorical woman figure who represents Switzerland. The role goes to a blonde, beautiful girl with Slavic roots. Image Problem observes aspects of Switzerland that are less known outside the country, which makes the movie there hard to understand.


The Swiss Miss Massacre.

Stereotypes are also taken up by a completely different movie: The Swiss Miss Massacre. A comedy with horror aspects by the best-known Swiss director Michael Steiner (who also directed Sennentuntschi in 2011). The election of Miss Switzerland engages a big part of Swiss culture and media. Steiner mocks them by killing the beauty contestants on a deserted island. The film only fully functions when one is familiar with Switzerland’s German speaking part, otherwise it becomes a Swiss version of Scary Movie since all local wit is not understandable. Steiner takes up every cliché that exists in the competition and media world where one needs to know the shown celebrities in their relevant roles, if not the film slips off into foolishness.

Switzerland in its small size and different language areas needs time to cope with itself. Both films only work through their exaggeration. Image Problem is more serious and intelligent by touching pieces of truth. The Miss Massacre should not be taken too seriously, since it tries to ease the relationship between beauty and public (this year, the beauty competition will not be shown on national TV anymore) is the most profound sense of it. Both films take the risk of exposing Switzerland as a country of dumbs. The reactions to the movies could add a quality to the stereotypes known abroad: lack of humor. Swiss people could find the wit in the films (one more diverse and deeper than the other) but over the boarders – and that already underlines the closeness, Image Problem accuses the nation with – they cannot transport their message.

Fortunately, there are more Swiss productions that can gain their respects in front of international viewers. Swiss documentaries, with More Than Honey leading the way, impress with their scenery and patience. Nachtlärm (aka Lullaby Ride), a Swiss production with mostly German actors is about a couple losing their crying baby on a nightly car ride when their car gets stolen and an odyssey begins. Christoph Schaub focuses on the story rather than conflicts of the country. That is in general the ability a film must have to persists internationally.

Claudia Piwecki lives in Basel, Switzerland, where she is the chief editor of the cultural section of www.semestra.ch, and is enrolled in a Master's program in cultural studies.

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