- Maja Tschumi’s first captivating feature film sees us catapulted without a net between the walls of a refugee centre where four young people are trying to rebuild their lives
Presented in a world premiere at the Solothurn Film Festival, where it’s currently competing for the Prix de Soleure, and without false modesty, Rotzloch by Maja Tschumi doesn’t shy away from anything in introducing us to the day-to-day lives of four young “imprisoned” refugees (and not just in the metaphorical sense of the word), staying in a shelter in Rotzloch, an old district and industrial zone in Switzerland’s Nidvaldo canton. Now seemingly uninhabited, situated just outside Rotz’s ravines, Rotzloch is considered to be the oldest proto-industrial area in the Nidvaldo canton. So what are Mahir, Habibi, Amir and Issac doing in this forgotten region? What integration prospects can these men (for there are no women among the shelter’s 150 guests) possibly hope for? Men who are denied everything: working permits, the possibility of travelling, education and fun (because fun is also a key part of a decent life).
After fleeing their homeland, the four protagonists of Rotzloch find themselves in a prison with no doors, lost in the Swiss mountains. It will be here that their new life begins, a place where they can piece themselves back together after a harrowing journey marked by violence and a past they’d like to forget. What makes Maja Tschumi’s debut feature film particularly interesting and intriguing is the angle by which she approaches her subject. Without falling into the trap of do-goodery at an cost, or political denunciation for denunciation’s sake, the director allows the bodies of her protagonists to do the talking. In spite of their modesty, which surrounds them like an impenetrable carapace, Mahir, Habibi, Amir and Issac lay themselves bare in front of the camera, revealing their sensitive inner selves to the viewer. The director stalks their bodies, moving beneath their skin via close-ups which relentlessly confront us with the person hiding behind the “refugee” label.
Despite the countess restrictions and the insecurity that comes with their precarious situation, intimacy seen through the prism of sexuality or love features in every single conversation between these young immigrants. Faced with a reality which is often light years away from that of their homeland, Mahir, Habibi, Amir and Issac must re-evaluate all which they held to be true. What does “being a man” really mean? What attitude should they take towards sexuality (which is always inflexibly heterosexual) when it’s no longer based on relationship of domination between genders?
By way of Krautrock-style electrical music which seems to translate the four protagonists’ unexpressed and inexpressible anxieties, Maja Tschumi seems to want to tell us that, ultimately, one-sided redemption isn’t an option. Indeed, each of the characters hides fears and anxieties which the society and culture they grew up in have taught them to repress. In this sense, the scene where very young Habib, sat on her bed and surrounded by dolls, tells her mum that she can handle the family’s money problems, is particularly touching. Rotzloch forces us to face up to “difference” and to a reality which we often tend to relegate to the periphery of our daily lives, a reality which deserves to be accepted in all its powerful complexity.
Rotzloch is produced by Distant Lights Filmproduktion (Zurich) and SRF Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen.
(Translated from Italian)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.