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Dürrenmatt - Eine Liebesgeschichte: Exploring the intimacy of an unusual Swiss man


- The latest documentary by Sabine Gisiger arrived at the Solothurn Film Festival recently, where it was presented in the Swiss Panorama section

Dürrenmatt - Eine Liebesgeschichte: Exploring the intimacy of an unusual Swiss man
An image of Friedrich Dürrenmatt used in the film

Following Yalom’s Cure [+see also:
film review
film profile
, an intense portrait of American psychiatrist Irvin D Yalom, Sabine Gisiger once again takes an interest in a male figure who is somewhat out of the ordinary: the very gifted Swiss writer, painter and thinker Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Presented as a world premiere at the Zurich Film Festival, Dürrenmatt - Eine Liebesgeschichte [+see also:
film profile
has now arrived at the Solothurn Film Festival and forms part of the Swiss Panorama section. 

In keeping with the irony and the utterly personal wit that defined the brilliant Swiss intellectual, Sabine Gisiger decided to catch him off guard. Indeed, Dürrenmatt - Eine Liebesgeschichte portrays the privacy of this man who, while he was never the least bit afraid to talk about the reality that surrounded him, never loved talking about himself. With her latest documentary, Sabine Gisiger pays an unexpected cinematic tribute - one which is sensitive but also cutting - to one of the finest observers of Swiss society, “a tolerable lunatic”, as he once described himself. Gisiger tries to find the key to understanding the man Dürrenmatt from a point of view that has so far remained unexplored: the intense, symbiotic relationship that the Swiss writer maintained with his wife, Lotti, for over 40 years.

True to the saying “behind every great man there is always a great woman”, both Dürrenmatt the man and Dürrenmatt the character built themselves on the foundations laid by Lotti. Together, not only did they raise a family, but they also breathed life into a series of works with a shared perception. Following the death of his wife in 1983, Dürrenmatt endured a deep crisis, which he managed to overcome thanks only to a new, intense relationship. Love, a search for the absolute, a utopia that was surely one of the driving forces behind his work. As he himself said, while “the idyllic Swiss life is a façade”, love could, on the contrary, pierce reality. It’s a shame that it’s already so difficult to get to know ourselves so as to make it impossible for us to get to know others (again, according to him). So what is there left for us to do? Live like a lunatic among other lunatics, and simply observe without wishing to heal ourselves, like he did himself? 

To delve into Dürrenmatt’s private life, Gisiger opts for a multifaceted narrative in which the testimonies of the members of his family (his sister Verena, and his children Ruth and Peter), archive images and the voice-over that occasionally accompanies them (reading texts or poems…) create a patchwork of reality, with all of the elements superimposed on each other. The writer, the father, the husband and the brother live side by side in a continual coming and going, from intimacy to privacy. Dürrenmatt - Eine Liebesgeschichte has a great time moving us, then straight afterwards makes us laugh out loud, a tendency that matches up perfectly with the Dürrenmattian brand of poetry, a subtle blend of intellectualism and sensitivity, incarceration and freedom.

Gisiger manages to visually transcribe Dürrenmatt’s literature while striking a necessary balance between words and images. Such a difficult exercise requires her to know how to look beyond words, towards a meticulously concealed emotion, in order to bring to light a fascinating and mysterious character who we perhaps will never manage to fully understand. 

Dürrenmatt - Eine Liebesgeschichte was produced by Zurich-based Das Kollektiv für audiovisuelle Werke GmbH (which is also in charge of the film’s international sales), Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen, RTS Radio Télévision Suisse and RSI Radiotelevisione svizzera.

(Translated from Italian)

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