Film by Swiss anarchist watchmakers wins best film award at Jeonju Film Festival

Swiss director Cyril Schäublin speaks to SWI swissinfo.ch while walking by the Jeonjuchun River: “There are no actors in the film. They are all friends or real watchmakers. Christopher Small

by Cyril Schäublin Disorders collects its second international award months before its theatrical release, scheduled for October. During a talk walk with British critic Christopher Small a few days before the award, Schäublin wanders through filmmaking and the landscape of Jeonju.

This content was published on May 6, 2022 – 15:16

Christopher Small, in Jeonju

In February, Swiss filmmaker Cyril Schäublin won the Rencontres prize for best director at the Berlinale for Disordershis unique feature-length portrait of the dazzling growth of anarchism among Swiss watchmakers in the hills of Saint-Imier, canton of Jura, in the 19and century.

Hot on the heels of that Berlin triumph, Schäublin’s film made its way to the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea – arguably the first of many other major festivals on the horizon.

Thanks to its generous funding apparatus and emphasis on risk-taking over radical experimentation, the festival is a well-known and much-loved incubator for international independent cinema. In no time, Schäublin imposed itself in Jeonju: on Wednesday May 4, the film won the prize for the best film in the international competition.


Schäublin (center) receiving the Best Film award in Jeonju, applauded by members of the jury – curator Andrei Tănăsescu (right) and actor Haseon Park (left). JEONJU IFF OFFICIAL PHOTO TEAM

pass the floor

I met Schäublin in the lobby of our hotel during his stay in Korea and we went for a walk along the Jeonjuchun, the river that runs through the center of the city. At the end of the day, the light streaming through Jeonju, a low-rise sprawl with many glass storefronts facing each other, is amazing.

As we walked and talked, Schäublin was eloquent in discussion of his film, but distracted, his attention drawn to numerous lily-like patterns of pale sunlight arranging in grids on the gray walls around us.

Funny Schäublin, rigorous Disorders is, to use a famous Shakespearean phrase, as rich as it is strange. The Europe of 1876 is marked by the rapid advance of capitalism and the specter of libertarian communism in the collective consciousness. Few places on the continent experimented with radical democracy and industrialization as seriously and thoroughly in this era as Switzerland, which is depicted here as a site of massive political upheaval but also, at least with the list of placid figures of Schäublin, moderate emotion.

The troubles” of the title, a metaphor for so many things in this attractive work, refers to an indispensable element of watchmaking, also called the balance wheel.

The protagonist (Clara Gostynski) spends her day lowering it without shaking into each new mechanism with small tweezers. Without the troubles, the ordered clockwork system of these watches would cease to function; timing itself would lose its meaning.

The parallel transformations shaping the world of watchmakers are those of standardized time – kindly resisted by the municipality itself, with its four time zones – and of anarchy – represented by the arrival of the cartographer and anarchist Piotr Kropotkine in the region. (The film is based on his memoir.)

The anarchist point of view

Of Kropotkine, Schäublin speaks of it with tenderness but above all as a vector of other ideas. When you start to delve into this history of anarchism, watchmaking and the region, “you very quickly come across him”, he tells me.

In Kropotkin’s memoirs, he talks a lot about Switzerland, about these watchmaking workshops, about the enormous amount of his political and philosophical thought that developed there.

In Disordershowever, Kropotkin is not a heroic figure but a mild-mannered observer, patiently working through his maps and bemusedly interacting with the townspeople, including the local police, who frequently and gently block his way on various streets. of the city for obscure reasons.

“Of course, the idea that we should talk so much about these famous anarchists – Bakunin, Kropotkin, Emma Goldman – is debatable from an anarchist point of view,” says Schäublin. “I knew I had to resist this urge to focus my film on specific characters rather than the collective movement, or the simple people trying to fit it into their reality.”

Mid-sentence, Schäublin steps forward to take another photo with his 35mm Leica – of a rectangle of dusty sunlight illuminating bric-a-brac in a disused lot between two buildings. Returning, he apologizes and mutters words of wonder about a particular metal lantern nearby, before returning to his thought: “Yes, it’s the 150and anniversary of the birth of the movement in Saint-Imier this year, during the first screening of our film. A strange and happy coincidence.

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When Switzerland made the revolution

Schäublin’s research was intensive, drawing on his own brother, an anthropologist, as well as a number of highly qualified academic sources from across Switzerland.

BakuninExternal link died in Bern. Russian students came to Zurich. Switzerland was one of the first places where you could study as a woman, for example. They came and they had access to revolutionary literature there in the 1870s, which was forbidden in most European countries, especially monarchies like Germany and Italy. He walked away again before adding: “In Switzerland, the anarchists printed newspapers and smuggled them all over Europe. “Even,” he turned to look directly at me smiling, “in England.”

Our conversation is fragmented everywhere; ideas, back and forths intertwine among the world’s myriad distractions, many to which Schäublin was supernaturally sensitive. This sweet chaos seems fitting for the director of a film about how maintaining a bit of chaos can rebalance a working life, about how hidden pathways only reveal themselves when they’re somehow pieced together. .

Moreover, the scenes made on simple dialogues have an unusual character in Disorders; Schäublin eschews typical setups, stitching together his images so that the performers do not appear on stage while they are talking, but only after they have stopped talking.

We are now approaching the river, leaving behind us the bustling streets of the city center, strolling like two stately, aristocratic figures who dully discuss anarchist theory in the film’s opening scene.

When I realize that I’ve never seen people speak — mumble, really — that way before in a historical movie, he seems happy. “Well, something that amazes me with most historical films is that people seem to speak in a big, heavy way – as if every word counts, a ground. I just tried to imagine that in the 19and century, there was as much randomness in language as there is today.


Access rights from the history collection / Alamy

Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (1842-1921), was a Russian geographer, anarchist and prince. He was a descendant of the founder of the Rurik dynasty that ruled Kievan Rus, but he stopped using his title when he was twelve years old. He joined a revolutionary party in the 1870s, and was imprisoned, escaping in 1876. He then lived in Switzerland, France and England. His last years were spent in the Soviet Union after the February Revolution of 1917.

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History as science fiction

He learned something essential from the famous Portuguese cinematographer Rui Poças: to treat historical fiction films as science fiction. “He meant: with the same freedom. Making films in both genres is like making a complete construction. You will naturally feel compelled when making a historical film to do something justice. But no, you have to state that this is also a free experience.

We watch a crane dive over the river, swim briefly near the bank, then fly away. What about the non-professional cast, I ask, made up of friends and real watchmakers from the valley?

“It sure is intimidating to suddenly find yourself with twenty-five crew members and five people disguising you all around when you’ve never been on camera. But for some of these people, lifelong friends, I to know their faces.”

Throughout our conversation, Schäublin always speaks of his performers in this way, with obvious deep love and respect. “I know what moves me about them, after countless dinners together, countless evenings together. Making the film is about looking for those details that I see in our lives as friends.

Carlo Pisani

Christopher Small is a British-born writer, curator and filmmaker living in Prague, Czech Republic. He directs the Critics Academy at the Locarno Festival.

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