by Tina Poglajen
- World-premiering at the DokuFest documentary film festival in Prizren, Fisnik Maxhuni and Benoît Goncerut’s film is an exploration of the immigrant psyche in Switzerland
Looking at one of the most pressing contemporary issues from a slightly different perspective, the documentary Zvicra [+see also:
film profile] – which is the Albanian name for Switzerland – examines the attitudes, beliefs and, most of all, personal identities of first- or second-generation Albanian and Kosovar immigrants living in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. After German, French and Italian, Albanian is the language with the highest number of speakers in the country, but it is far from having an equal social status. Fisnik Maxhuni and Benoît Goncerut’s film, world-premiering at the DokuFest documentary film festival in Prizren, presents one interviewee after another, some of them young, others less so; most of them hopeful and optimistic, others feeling the pressure of their roots much more than they seem to be willing to admit.
As one of the young interviewees explains, Albanians are just the ones who are going through a rough time right now. Before them, the “undesirables” were the Italians, and after them, it might be someone else. Regardless of whether we agree with the assessment or not, it is amazing and sometimes painful to see the attitudes each of them adopts in order to get by. A middle-aged woman, vaguely aware of the racism behind the remarks of her co-workers, nonetheless maintains her good humour while explaining that Switzerland is now her home, even if she does miss the Balkans sometimes. A man, a truck driver, has made a good life for himself and anticipates an even better one in ten years’ time. A young football player thoughtfully reflects on the difference between calling someone a “dirty Albanian” and a “dirty Swiss”; still, he would play for both national teams and sometimes feels more inclined to identify with one country, at other times with the other. Perhaps most jarring are the interviews with a teenage girl and a young man, a fisherman, who seem to have internalised not only the demands that the conservative environment has placed on the immigrant community, but also their negative prejudices about themselves.
With this kind of exploration of the immigrant psyche – even if we sometimes wish the filmmaker had delved deeper – Zvicra opens up a discussion on how the mindset of the country, not just the economic situation or the condition of the welfare state, is shaping the mindset of its immigrants, not just in one generation, but in those of their children and grandchildren, too, to whom the trauma of leaving one’s home, starting a new life and facing different forms discrimination on a daily basis is inevitably transferred. What does it mean for one’s mindset, world view and especially the sense of self when a young person is repeatedly told or gets the impression that their language or culture is somehow inferior to others? What does it mean for the generation to come?
It is telling that most of the people whom Maxhuni and Goncerut approached declined to be filmed. The young filmmaker was born in Kosovo himself and came to Switzerland as a refugee during the war. Perhaps a more strongly felt personal input, or a more impassioned and openly subjective approach to the topic, would therefore have elevated Zvicra to a truly unique and impressive documentary. Judging by the psychological realities of the immigrants in Switzerland explored in the film, it is also not surprising that making that kind of a film would have involved a much bigger struggle.
Zvicra was produced by Benoît Goncerut and Fisnik Maxhuni for Lausanne-based Visceral Films.
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