The Wind Turns (Le Vent tourne, Switzerland-France, 2018)

The good life?

The Good Life (UK, 1975-8) was a sitcom posited on a middle class couple trying to be self sufficient in suburbia as an antidote to the rat race. Nearly 50 years later, managing the soil and food supplies is not something for comedy as climate catastrophe starts to envelope us. That’s, roughly, the premise of Swiss director Bettina Oberli’s (she co-wrote with Antoine Jaccoud) French language debut, without the suburbia and the comedy. Set in the beautiful Jura mountains, Pauline (Mélanie Thierry) and Alex (Pierre Deladonchamps) farm in isolation, taking on a Ukrainian girl, Galina (Anastasia Shevtsova), for the summer as part of a project to help victims of Chernobyl. They work really hard. In an attempt to avoid using the electricity grid, Samuel (Nuno Lopes) is hired to erect a wind turbine and suddenly Pauline is not so sure that life with Alex is all dreamboat.

Although I enjoyed the film, performances and cinematography (by Stéphane Kuthy) are all excellent, I wondered where its sympathies lay. Alex is something of a fundamentalist in that he rejects vaccines for the cattle on the grounds they are interfering with nature. Pauline’s sister is a vet, and co-owns the farm, and so there was interesting possibilities regarding the degree to which science should be used in farming. At one extreme, factory farming has turned animal husbandry into animal cruelty and caused a degradation in both the food supply and ecological footprints. Alex becomes something of a villain as it becomes clear in that his stubborn-headed insistence on a pure way of living is doomed to failure; and he’s in danger of losing his wife. However, the film doesn’t suggest that there is much benefit in the couple’s lifestyle, to themselves or the planet. It’s true that Galina’s health benefits, and comes to love the place after initially being bored with no wifi and little mobile reception, but there’s no suggestion that there is a ‘happy medium’ between scientific intervention (vaccination is not bad) and organic living. Surely humankind needs to find this balance or the way forward is backwards. Overall, the melodrama of the love affair overtakes the ecological theme.

The film is resolutely from Pauline’s perspective and Thierry is great at portraying the ‘animal’ lust that leads her to Samuel. It’s not a pull that’s easy to resist but she shows that, had Alex been less in his own bubble, she might well have done so.

Chris the Swiss (Switzerland, 2018) – LIFF7

A child trying to understand

The horrors of the civil war in former Yugoslavia should not be forgotten and debut director (who also scripted) Anja Kofmel investigates the time and place through a personal journey. Her cousin, Christian Würtenberg, was a fearless journalist who was killed when Kofmel was eight years old. Twenty years later she, and the film crew, try to find out how he died.

Of course there’s no doubting the heartfelt nature of the documentary, it supplements actuality footage and interviews with animation, the visual style of which is apparently derived from a nightmare she had as a child about Chris’ death. However, although we do find out details about Chris’ demise, the detective work feels perfunctory and doesn’t reveal much about the war (except Opus Dei seem to have been involved with the Pope’s blessing). Although Kofmel wrote the script in the first person, and she appears on camera, the English voiceover is spoken by New Zealander Megan Gay in a middle class English accent (at first I’d assumed Kofmel to be English because of this). The credits also list a ‘German narrator’. I’m not sure of the point of doing this but it distanced me from the narrative, which, given its personal nature, was a disadvantage.

It was difficult to gauge the reliability of the interviewees and, although the conclusion is convincing, the reasons behind Chris’ death necessarily remain speculative. The animation, an expressionist monochrome, looks good but features evil-like skittering black things that are too close to Hollywood and they undermine the realism of the documentary. The weak script renders commonplace the extraordinary events; maybe the film suffers overall because of Kofmel’s inexperience as a filmmaker. Certainly it is worth seeing, if only to remember the terrible time, but this personal journal does little to enlighten.