The Los Angeles Swiss Film Festival in review

From Heidi to Hollywood, Charlie Chaplin to Jean-Luc Godard to H.R. Giger, James Bond to the Pink Panther to Bollywood to the TV reality series The Bachelor and beyond, Swiss cinema and television has a rich heritage. This motion picture plenitude was on full display at Hollywood’s Harmony Gold Theater on Sept. 7 during the 4th Edition of Short Films Long Night presented by the Los Angeles Swiss Film Festival.

This year 14 short films plus two Switzerland Tourism TV spots were screened. The “100 percent Swiss” category included six shorts made on location in Switzerland by and with mainly homegrown talents. Eight shorts were projected in the “Here & There” category, which included works made in part by Swiss talents and filmed outside of the Confédération Helvétique (CH, the oval ID sticker on cars from Switzerland).

The variety of films shown reveals the Alpine nation’s depth and breadth of talent. Interestingly, all of the shorts could have been shot outside of Switzerland. For example, the urban setting of the 9’33” comedy drama directed by Rafael Kistler, The Kids Are Alright, dealing with issues of crime, immigration and youth, might have been lensed during the night in any European urban area. Those attributes people typically think of as Swiss – snow-capped peaks, ski lifts, yodeling, alpenhorns, Saint Bernards and the like – were curiously only on display in the well-made Switzerland Tourism television commercials that also entertained the L.A. audience. One could say these ads were “100 percent Swiss-plus.”

In any case, three of the shorts won awards — one per category plus an audience award voted by attendees in the packed auditorium. Winning in the “100 percent Swiss” division was the French-language, subtitled 14′ black comedy The Finger, directed by Malika Pelliocioli. In this delicious farce, three siblings battle over the legacy of their dearly departed dad around the time of his funeral at home. In particular, the two brothers and one sister have their eyes on the ring adorning the film’s eponymous digit. Sheer hilarity ensues as they attempt to retrieve the piece of jewelry before it, along with its bearer, goes on to meet its proverbial maker.

What is particularly droll is that the sister is identified as a socialist candidate for office — who actually campaigns during the funeral! Perhaps Pelliocioli had it in mind to indict Swiss socialists for being as greedy as the rest of their capitalist brethren. In any case, the short’s title may be a witty reference to what the deceased is giving, posthumously, to his avaricious children. Pascale Rey, president of Dreamago (a Swiss organization based in Sierre/Valais specializing in coaching screenwriters), received the award on behalf of Valais-based Pelliocioli.

The winner of the “Here & There” category was a real change in pace from The Finger‘s naturalistic style. Elie Chapuis’ 6’32” animated Impostor depicted a cartoony deer attempting to rob a man’s identity by removing his head. Although a work of animation, Chapius’ skillfully wrought short dealt with infidelity and other all-too-human, if not too nice, baser desires and instincts. (One of this critic’s personal favorites among the shorts was another animation piece, Fabienne Giezendanner’s 12′ Giant Dwarf, an imaginative, creatively rendered version of an Inuit legend.)

The knee-slapping Ruprecht likewise belies the stereotype some have of the Swiss as being a dour, humorless folk. It was easy to see why L.A.-based filmgoers awarded Yangzom Brauen the Audience Award for the 10’48” (mostly) English-language comedy, as it deals with one of Los Angeles’ most irksome nuisances: Leaf blowers, and the ear-piercing noises they make, especially during early morning hours. Ruprecht is having sex (perhaps with a prostitute?) when his passionate romp is ruined by pesky gardeners, prompting the European (perhaps Swiss) man into action by attempting to get the L.A. city bureaucracy to stop this chronic disturbing of the piece, which Ruprecht has been complaining about, with little effect, for ages. Uproarious frivolity ensues with a series of cross-cultural collisions and encounters in L.A.’s multi-culti cauldron of disparate nationalities from around the world, as East meets Alp. ​Brauen received the award in person from attorney Dennis Fredricks, who serves as a special counsel to Swiss and other consulates, and Swiss model Alizée Gaillard.

The Consulate General of Switzerland (Consul General Jean-François Lichtenstern is a huge movie buff), supported by Presence Switzerland, presented the Los Angeles Swiss Film Festival. Along with recent works by Swiss filmmakers such as Germinal Roaux, Bettina Oberli, Marc Forster, veteran Xavier Koller, et al, the Festival’s shorts showed that this is a small nation with big-screen big talents.

Photo: Audience Award Winner “Ruprecht” was directed by Yangzom Brauen, a female Swiss filmaker who lives in L.A.


Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an LA-based film historian and critic, author of "Progressive Hollywood: A People’s Film History of the United States," and co-author of "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book." He has written for Variety, Television Quarterly, Cineaste, New Times L.A., and other publications. Rampell lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, reporting on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific and Hawaiian Sovereignty movements.