Welcome to Switzerland: The bitter aftertaste of acceptance
by Muriel Del Don
- LOCARNO 2017: Following her documentary Yalom's Cure, Sabine Gisiger returns to Locarno with her latest effort, Welcome to Switzerland, a journey between the walls of an impenetrable nation
Swiss director Sabine Gisiger possesses the unusual skill of being able to depict the secret worlds of some very symbolic characters, such as that of US psychiatrist Irvin D Yalom (Yalom's Cure [+see also:
film profile]), or Swiss writer and playwright Dürrenmatt (Dürrenmatt-Eine Liebesgeschichte [+see also:
film profile]). However, in Gisiger’s latest film, it’s an entire country that comes under the microscope. Welcome to Switzerland [+see also:
film profile], presented out of competition at the Locarno Film Festival, tells the story of the contradictions of our time, complex and unsettled, and the courage of people who, despite everything, continue to fight.
In 2016, the smallest village in Oberwil-Lieli and the richest in the canton found itself in the headlines at the same time as the country was experiencing one of its biggest surges in immigration (in the summer of 2015, one million refugees sought shelter in Europe). The mayor of the town, Andreas Glarner, refused to accommodate ten asylum seekers, choosing instead to pay a 290,000 franc fine. In his opinion - but also in the opinion of many of Oberwil-Lieli’s residents - the "guests" ran the risk of spoiling the peace and tranquility of their charming town. Sabine Gisiger starts off with a "local" event to lay the foundations for a discussion on the politics of the entire country. The film preys on the doubts of many, but also shows a country rich in humanitarian tradition.
What remains of this welcoming spirit? Has the country surrendered to the extremist discourse of the UC party, which criticises those that it deems to be undeserving of acceptance? Sabine Gisiger doesn't necessarily answer the question, mainly because there isn't one simple answer, but instead shows us the complexity that brings the Swiss Confederation to life: on the one hand there’s the tendency to be very insular, and on the other a willingness to welcome others, without preconceptions or fear. Johanne Grüdel, a student and the daughter of a local horticulturist, identifies with the latter and decides to create a resistance movement against a policy of refusal that must not be allowed to reign supreme.
Gisiger provides a close reading of Switzerland, thanks to the Oberwil-Lieli case, a micro-reality that comes to represent the conflicted feelings of society as a whole, both the good but also, sadly, the bad. Events in the film unfold chronologically, except for some fundamental historical moments that are hinted at without warning in the present day (thanks to archive footage): the closing of the borders to Jewish people in 1942, the post-war period marked by immigration from Eastern Europe, and even the 1970s Shwarzenbach initiative. We’re shown some dark moments both in Switzerland and around the globe. An eternal "comeback" to problems relating to immigration, which Switzerland deals with regularly and that never cease to cause heated debates (again, some good but mainly some very ugly ones). Welcome to Switzerland is a brave documentary about a country nestled in the heart of Europe, looking to find a balance that does justice to its past.
(Translated from Italian)
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