The Culture Trip: The best films from Switzerland
For a lens on Swiss identity, check out the best films Switzerland's movie industry has to offer.
While not exactly a juggernaut on the international cinema scene, Switzerland’s film industry has nonetheless produced some gems, as this list illustrates. Spotlighting Switzerland's diverse culture, history, people, and heritage, each film offers a valuable insight into a small but highly distinctive European country.
Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976)
Shot primarily in Geneva, writer-director Alain Tanner turns his camera lens on the political atmosphere surrounding the May 1968 wildcat strikes in France and the effects on eight different individuals. The film focuses on marginal characters, each of whom is caught somewhere between revolution and apathy in their quest to live the utopian lives they envisage. With mesmerising performances from the entire cast, the film is peppered with pitch perfect comic timing. Tanner was a central figure in the development and popularisation of 'new Swiss cinema' in the late 60s and early 70s, and his work is of irrefutable integrity and intelligence. Underrated and understated, Jonah Who Will be 25 in the Year 2000 is one such forgotten marvel.
The Lacemaker (1977)
Directed by Claude Goretta and based on the novel la Dentelliére by Pascal Laine, The Lacemaker is the film that launched the career of beloved French actress Isabelle Huppert. The action follows apprentice hairdresser Beatrice (Huppert) who encounters her first love, an affluent middle-aged intellectual named François (Yves Beneyton). Happy at first, their cultural differences and idiosyncrasies begin to tear their affair apart. A tale of romance turned sour, The Lacemaker is a subtle interrogation of class prejudice and its conditioning force within society. With an inspired performance from Isabelle Huppert, a bitter ending makes this film an undeniable tearjerker.
The Swissmakers (1979)
Still one of the most successful Swiss films at the national box office, The Swissmakers is an endearing examination of the troubles and trivialities encountered by foreigners attempting to obtain Swiss citizenship. A quintessential display of national culture, Rolf Lyssy's film takes a satirical look at Swiss bureaucracy and community, which at times cuts a little too close to the bone, especially when addressing the country's hospitality. Combining both situational comedy and plenty of colourful native Swiss characters, The Swissmakers is an essential piece of cinema for anyone who wants to learn a little more about what makes these extrovert people tick.
Les Petites Fugues (1979)
Another slice of typical Swiss comedy, Les Petites Fugues balances humourous feel-good sentiment with a sombre undercurrent. The spotlight falls upon elderly farmhand Pipe (Michel Robin). Retiring after more than 65 years of solitary labour he decides to buy a motorcycle and tour the Swiss countryside. Revelling in the freedom he has always longed for, his new lease on life begins to create more problems than it solves. A film which guides the viewer along every mile of Pipe's questing, Les Petites Fugues is as much a journey of discovery for the audience as it is for the ageing nomad. Hilarious, endearing, and optimistic, Yves Yersin's film is a heart-warming look at an attempt to regain a sense of lost youth.
The Boat is Full (1981)
Directed by Makus Imhoof, this forgotten gem about World War II refugees seeking asylum in Switzerland is one that reveals an intriguing chapter in the nation's history. The title itself refers to an adopted expression used by the Swiss authorities to deny asylum seekers entry to the country during the global conflict. Another thought-provoking look at the Swiss perception of their community. The film strikes a similar chord to The Swissmakers with its interrogation of Swiss exclusivity and the myths of the country's wartime innocence.
Journey of Hope (1990)
One of only two Swiss films to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Journey of Hope is an uplifting adventure in which a Turkish family attempts to illegally emigrate to Switzerland in order to find a better life for themselves. An odyssey set amidst the snow-capped Alps, Journey of Hope highlights cultural boundaries and the ways in which people attempt to transcend them. With stunning cinematography, Switzerland's mountainous aesthetics almost become another character and the breathtaking landscape has rarely looked more beautiful.
Fogi is a Bastard (1998)
Taking place in 1970s Zurich, 15-year-old Beni (Vincent Branchet) becomes enraptured with a singer from a rock band named Fögi (Frédéric Andrau). Swiftly ensnared by the roller-coaster lifestyle, Beni's dependence on his new love takes him down a dark and depressing path. With themes including prostitution and alcohol and drug abuse, writer-director Marcel Gisler paints an incredibly intense picture of Zurich's dank and seedy underbelly. Based on the novel of the same name by Martin Frank, it is the relationship between the two leads which gives the film its destructive edge. A tale of love gone wrong, Fogi is a Bastard is a particularly apt title.
War Photographer (2001)
European countries with financially limited film industries often produce naturally gifted and determined documentary filmmakers. For many it appears to be the logical step when presented with technical and monetary constraints. Documentaries are cheaper to produce, research, and put together, but still able to garner starkly moving and insightful educative material. Christian Frei's War Photographer is one such gem. Focussing on the life and work of revered war photographer James Nachtwey, the film also analyses the broader scope of combat journalism and the psychological issues that it raises. The film questions how far a journalist should get involved when witnessing and documenting the destruction of war.
Real life piano prodigy Teo Gheorghiu plays Vitus, a 12-year-old boy burdened with the strain of being a world class piano player. Directed by veteran Swiss filmmaker Fried M. Muer, Vitus's fantastical feelgood storyline seeks to entertain rather than analyse. Enticing the audience to go with the flow, Muer's film is hugely uplifting and brimming with emotion, although it might be a little too sentimental for some. It's evident however that Muer is enjoying himself immensely, and produces a keen enthusiasm that gushes from the screen to engulf viewers.
Directed by Ursula Meier, Home is perhaps the best piece of art house cinema to come out of Switzerland in recent years. Shot mostly in Bulgaria, Marthe (Isabelle Huppert) lives with her family on the edge of a deserted highway. When renewed construction turns their residence into a permanent traffic jam, how will it affect their previously solitary and sheltered existence? A modern parable of home invasion, the film benefits from Meier's original direction to make for a truly unique viewing experience. One of a new generation of Swiss filmmakers reinvigorating the national industry, Meier's equally solid follow up Sister premiered at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival to rapturous acclaim.
For more articles on Belgium's art and culture; handpicked local galleries; local books, films, music and apps recommendations; local cultural events and tours; and a selection of restaurants and hotels – have a look at www.theculturetrip.com/europe/switzerland.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.