«Unrueh» by Cyril Schäublin

Interesting film about one of the founding Swiss myths, the cliché par excellence: fine watchmaking. The story is set in the late 19th Century in the Jura valley of Saint-Imier. In several rather static tableaux film director Schäublin introduces us to his characters: the gendarmes, two policemen with green uniforms and the bear of Berne on their caps; the director of the factory, Mr. Roulet and his counter-meters and then the lower workers, the watchmakers. Last but not least Russian cartographer Piotr Kropotkin, who is actually interested in the growing anarchist movement inside the community of workers.

Four different times co-exist in Saint-Imier: The municipal time, the time of the train station, the church time and the factory time. “We run 8 min faster than the other times”, says Mr. Roulet, who is also candidate for the cantonal parliament of Berne. Only men who payed their municipal taxes are allowed to vote and encouraged to do so for him of course. Several other professions appear around the factory. The gendarmes assure the good running of things and punish those, who don’t pay their taxes, like an older factory worker, Mrs. Künzli. There is also a photographer, who sells pictures of Sarah Bernhard, the Parisian star, famous criminals and even local people and some patriots casting men for a memorial show of the battle of Murten, in which the Swiss Confederates won against the Duke of Burgundy.

In Saint-Imier most people speak french and quite a few the swiss german of the Berne Seeland. At the telegraph office the clerk even speaks English and asks the Russian anarchist Piotr Kropotkin with what time he wants to send his telegraph?

«Unrueh», («Unrest» in English) lasts exactly 1:33 min. Time is essential in this very calm and slow paced film. I admittedly fell asleep for a couple of minutes because the action couldn’t keep me awake. Nevertheless I appreciated the film. The workers we see are being exploited and they start an anarchist movement with their own health insurances and political ideas. Piotr is fascinated by this way of thinking and reports his observations to other anarchists in Barcelona and Chicago. He has a crush on a régulatrice, a worker in charge of making sure that all watches run on time. In a final scene she explains to him, how she mounts a watch with the different components and how they interact to make a movements indicating seconds, minutes, hours and days. The element called “Unruh” in german, or balancier in french, is a kind of spiral, the heart of the watch so to say and at the same time the heart of one of Switzerland’s most famous industries.

Cyril Schäublin‘s Period Piece is interesting but not mind-blowing. The cinematography is kind of pastell and blurry, resembling aquarelles or early photography. The framing is a little irritating as the characters’ legs are mostly out of frame. This “original style” convinced the Berlinale Jury last year and Schäublin won the award for Best Director in 2022.

A film worth seeing on a rainy afternoon and personally it made me want to watch the director’s debut: «Dene wos guet geit» (in English litreally: “Those Who Are Well Off”).

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