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BERLINALE 2022 Competition

Review: A Piece of Sky

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- BERLINALE 2022: Michael Koch’s second feature is an Alpine mountain melodrama, studded with strange musical interludes

Review: A Piece of Sky

The Swiss Alps have a specific resonance in the popular imagination, standing for placidity, beauty and remoteness, but they’re less associated with cinema – especially if James Bond whizzing down their slopes doesn’t count. But Swiss actor-turned-director Michael Koch has attempted to demystify the Alps with A Piece of Sky [+see also:
trailer
interview: Michael Koch
film profile
]
, his first film in the Berlinale competition after his debut, Marija [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Michael Koch
film profile
]
, played at Locarno. Akin to many arthouse-aiming directors before him, his close look at this region finds a community clinging to tradition and fazed by modernity, through which we home in on a romantic bond defined by turbulent miscommunication. At Wednesday’s prizegiving ceremony, it garnered a Special Mention from the competition jury (see the news).

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Koch’s aim is to show us a version of the Alps undercutting the typical, kitsch imagery of crystalline lakes and calmly grazing livestock. But as we grasp the film’s structural shape, he veers too far from its social world, into a relationship drama beset by almost arbitrary obstacles, and A Piece of Sky finds itself in a cul-de-sac of miserablism, albeit lensed from what looks like Mount Olympus.

We begin with a meet-cute, in a naively classical sense, although the boy is a man-mountain of a farm worker, his white overalls turned grey with sweat, and the girl is a taciturn barmaid, glaring into the foamy beers she pours for the off-duty workers at her mother’s tavern. This is Marco (Simon Wisler, a real-life farmer heading a cast of non-professionals) and Anna (Michèle Brand, who trained as an architect), and they are going to make a go of it. Their relationship initially has a bracing carnality: the opening act shows Anna giving Marco a near-lap dance to a strutting rock song, once his older colleagues from the farm have vacated the premises. An early shot of the men clumsily attempting to breed a bull and a cow outside the farmhouse finds its rhyme, as the two of them have alfresco sex on a hillside. It’s a mite Edenic, with the ensuing tragedy the closest thing we get to a serpent.

Soon, Marco is acting unpredictably and can barely stand up; it transpires he has developed a brain tumour, and surgery is needed. But this does not eliminate further erratic behaviour from Marco, resulting in an ambiguous interaction with Anna’s daughter, who came from a past relationship. The very local feel, with disapproving friends, neighbours and colleagues surveilling their troubles, combined with the despair-ridden plot turns, givesA Piece of Sky a soap-operatic sense you don’t feel Koch is courting. And then, as Marco and Anna renew their devotion to one another, amidst the wreckage of their initial love, you can’t help but be reminded of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, albeit with none of Lars’s love of irony, always aware of how these scenarios can skirt cliché.

Koch chooses to use no nondiegetic music, but his strategy for when he does want to incorporate tunes is telling. First, we have a choir perched on the grassy slopes, belting out hymns that act like a Greek chorus to the events. A Bollywood musical crew come to film on location about halfway through, in a jarring change of tone, and are never referred to again. Both examples speak to this film’s wish to surprise and be novel, but also the deficit in fully convincing us.

A Piece of Sky is a Swiss-German co-production staged by Hugofilm Productions, Pandora Filmproduktion, SRF - Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen, SRG SSR and ARTE Deutschland. New Europe Film Sales is in charge of its international sales.

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Photogallery 14/02/2022: Berlinale 2022 - A Piece of Sky

37 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Michael Koch, Christof Neracher, Christoph Friedel, Josef Aschwanden, Michèle Brand, Simon Wisler
© 2022 Fabrizio de Gennaro & Dario Caruso for Cineuropa - fadege.it, @fadege.it, dario-caruso.fr, @studio.photo.dar, Dario Caruso

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