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Review: Bisons


- Telling the poignant tale of two brothers wrestling with the challenges of their oppressive day-to-day lives, Pierre Monnard stresses the importance of solidarity

Review: Bisons
Maxime Valvini in Bisons

Following the success of Needle Park Baby [+see also:
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and various collaborations on successful Swiss TV series such as Neumatt [+see also:
series profile
, Wilder and Off Season, Swiss director Pierre Monnard is back behind the cameras, treating us to his latest feature film Bisons, which was presented in a world premiere at the Solothurn Film Festival (Audience Award), as well as in an international premiere within the Harbour section of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Bisons speaks of humanity, of the need to maintain an empathic outlook despite the challenges inherent to an increasingly hostile every-day. By way of a winning, heart-wrenching story and a brilliantly cast acting duo (Maxime Valvini and Karim Barras), Pierre Monnard depicts a peripheral version of Switzerland which is light years away from the picture postcard images thrust upon us by the tourist board; a Switzerland inhabited by fragile yet determined characters who are fighting for their survival.

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Steve Chappuis, a young and devoted bovine breeder, leads a life punctuated by hard work carried out on his family’s farm, which he manages with his mother Mathilde, and training for Swiss wrestling, a national sport he’s crazy about and which allows him to vent the frustrations he can’t yet put a name to. In this isolated spot, protected by the imposing mountains around him, Steve dreams of becoming a federal wresting champion, a prestigious title which would allow him to shine, perhaps for the very first time in his life.

But despite Steve’s tenacity, the situation is far from rosy. He and his mother are in the throes of a financial crisis which is only getting worse. Their debts have been building ever since his father’s death, jeopardising the future of the family business. Obsessed with wrestling, Steve decides to ignore their predicament, leaving his mother to carry the full weight of a situation which is fast becoming unbearable. Unexpectedly, it will be his brother Joël - recently released from prison - who opens Steve’s eyes and who takes his own approach to helping the family escape the infernal spiral they’re unconsciously caught up in. Joël suggests that Steve take part in illegal fights taking place in France in order to pull together the cash they need to settle the farm’s debts. It’s an extreme and dangerous solution which tests an already weakened fraternal bond. Ultimately, with his back against the wall, Steve decides to follow Joël on a human adventure where violence and affection come together unexpectedly.

Like a wounded animal refusing to succumb, the protagonist of Bisons takes on other disenfranchised members of society, people like him who subject their bodies to the fury of a society which doesn’t accept weaknesses, a cruel society where the law of the jungle reigns supreme. The snowy landscapes of the Jura-Nord region and the cold which gets into people’s bones, cutting through bodies and minds like a razorblade, accompany each and every frame, reminding us how nature can be hospitable but cruel, a friend as well as an enemy.

Bisons speaks of a society in which humanity and affection seem to be outlawed, a tired society afflicted by crisis and precariousness, and barely capable of dragging its bones along the ground. Bisons is also the poignant tale of two brothers fighting for survival in an increasingly hostile world. Their relationship, reserved but no less intense, becomes a metaphor for a rudderless world where empathy and affection seem to be the only arms available to fight at all costs for the preservation of humanity.

Bisons is produced by P.S. Productions, Les Contes Modernes, RTS Radio Télévision Suisse and SRG SSR.

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(Translated from Italian)

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