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BERLINALE 2022 Encounters

Cyril Schäublin • Director of Unrest

“By putting the people and the language to the margins of the frame, maybe the construction of those re-enacted situations becomes more visible”

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- BERLINALE 2022: The Swiss director's film is a trip back to the 19th century where the anarchist movement found fertile ground in Switzerland

Cyril Schäublin • Director of Unrest
(© Seeland Filmproduktion)

After his acclaimed first feature film Those Who Are Fine [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Swiss director Cyril Schäublin presents his new intriguing and visually exceptional feature Unrest [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Cyril Schäublin
film profile
]
in the Encounters section of this year's Berlinale. We talked to the director about the meaning of time and the connection between the anarchist movement and Switzerland. 

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Cineuropa: What fascinated you about the connection between Pyotr Kropotkin and Switzerland?
Cyril Schäublin: I was primarily fascinated by Kropotkin's books, especially "Mutual Aid." It takes an interesting look at the aid systems that exist between humans, animals and plants. He makes a reference to Darwin without directly contradicting him, but argues that instead of focusing on the systems of struggle, one can also focus on the systems of aid. This perspective interested me. And then added to that, in his memoirs he describes his experiences in a watchmaking valley in Switzerland and says that, during that time, he decided to be an anarchist.  

What sources did you have at your disposal to prepare the film?
Those were Kropotkin's memoirs, in which he tells about his trip to Switzerland. In addition, there was the book "Anarchist Watchmakers in Switzerland" by Florian Eitel, which was published two years ago. The author's microhistorical approach was crucial for writing the script. He shows how in a small town in the 19th century, several global developments condensed. And finally, perhaps the most important source of all was "La condition ouvrière" by Simone Weil, who came from a middle-class background but worked in a steel factory in Paris and describes her experiences. 

What were the concepts that you wanted to combine in the film?
It started with my grandmother, great-grandmother, great-aunts who were in charge of making this unrest wheel for the watches and worked in watch factories. Then I became aware of Pyotr Kropotkin and, in general, of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Switzerland and in the watch industry. In the 1870s and 1880s, Switzerland was the centre of this international movement. I was interested in how to deal with new technologies. How did society deal with them then, and how do we deal with them now? How does technology allow a society to form and to create identities? Moreover, this period in time is fascinating to me because it marks not only the beginning of the anarchist movement, but also raises questions about how we organise ourselves in the first place, how we deal with power and distribution of wealth. It was also the beginning of nation-states trying to create a national identity, just as the anarchists tried to construct their identity, both using for example the help of songs. Other important tools were photography, the telegraph and time measurement. They show how constructed this reality was and how this is still very true for our present. 

The clock is a very complex metaphor. What interested you most about this motif?
A watchmaker relative of mine once said, when I asked what time means to him, that you need to distinguish the physical phenomenon of time, which is still a mystery, from the measurement of time. A clock can be understood as a mathematical series that defines a sequence of events. This has a decisive influence on how one tells history, how one strings events together. Although the concept of the clock is something so internalised, it remains a construction. By keeping that in mind, it allows you to think about what alternative constructions or structures might be possible. 

Where exactly did you shoot? How difficult was it to create an aesthetic that would be reminiscent of the 19th century?
The anarchist movement took place in the valley of St-Imier in the 1870s, and that's where we focused on, when looking for 19th-century buildings where we could shoot. With the cinematographer Silvan Hillmann, I drove around and explored the area. In the process, we met people who ended up acting in the film. It was exciting to collaborate with truck drivers, farmers or watchmakers from that region and bring them together with friends of mine from the city, and see how they would re-enact situations from the 19th century together. 

How did you develop the visual concept? The characters are often on the margins, partially overwhelmed by technology.
In terms of framing, it was important to me that you would observe sort of random 19th century situations of everyday life. Obviously, the film would like to talk about our present, by juxtaposing constructed scenes from the 1870s. By putting the people and the language to the margins of the frame, maybe the construction of those re-enacted situations becomes more visible, hopefully leaving room for the spectators to create their own point of view. 

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