Glisch, camera, acziun! The first professional feature film in Romansh, one of Switzerland’s four national languages, was a success at the Locarno Film Festival and has been picked up by an American distributor. How significant is such exposure for Romansh culture?
“Romansh might be the least widely spoken Swiss national language, but Amur Senza Fin tells in a universal language and with a wonderful sense of humour a story about love and devotion. It’s the type of film that inspires audiences all around the world.”
That was Edward Noeltner, head of Cinema Management Group (CMG), poetically explaining the potential that his LA-based company sees in Amur Senza Finexternal link, which literally means “endless love” although the international title is Hide and Seek.
The 91-minute film was actually made for television by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo.ch’s parent company, and has a classic sitcom set-up: a rural community in eastern Switzerland gets a new priest, who turns out to be a German with Indian roots and doesn’t speak a word of Romansh. This seemingly unlikely situation is actually not as contrived as it sounds.
However, the plot takes a turn for the dramatic when Mona busts her husband Gieri fiddling around with her former best friend Giulia. Will Mona forgive him (and a six-month affair) or upgrade to the dashing new man in town? How does the new priest and his unconventional methods fit into all this?
To be honest, the trailer makes the film seem funnier than it actually is and it’s all fairly predictable, but this is not a review: the reason we’re talking about Amur Senza Fin is that it was filmed mostly in Romansh, a Swiss national language spoken by around 60,000 people in canton Graubünden.
“[The SBC] made it clear that the film was in the interest of Romansh. It should help the language have an important position in Switzerland and help Swiss people recognise this,” the film’s director Christoph Schaubexternal link tells swissinfo.ch in his Zurich office.
“It should also show the lives of modern Romansh-speaking people and a modern use of the language. A lot of people say Romansh is like a museum: nobody speaks it, it’s not alive. That’s obviously not true. They’re not farmers or shepherds! They’re normal people with normal interests. That was the political aim of this film: to show that Romansh is a normal everyday experience in Switzerland.”
Andreas Gabriel, spokesman for Lia Rumantschaexternal link, an umbrella organisation which works to maintain and promote Romansh but which had no involvement in the production of Amur Senza Fin, agrees. “I thought the scenes in which people argued in Romansh were particularly funny. They show how lively and imaginative the language is.”
Gabriel points out that Amur Senza Fin is not the first feature film in Romansh, as some of the marketing has claimed. “That honour goes to Dino Simonett’s La Rusna Pearsa (The Lost Hole) from 1993. But it’s true that Amur Senza Fin is the first professional film production in Romansh.”
The film is one of several recent efforts to boost interest in Romansh culture, for example online comic Il Crestomat.
“Public perception and presence is essential for the survival of a minority language like Romansh,” Gabriel told swissinfo.ch. “In this respect, this film is a wonderful opportunity to bring the Romansh language and culture closer to the public. Moreover, it dispels any doubts that a small language doesn’t also work as a film language.”
Obviously for the international market the film will be either subtitled or dubbed. “It will lose something in translation because it plays a bit with Romansh and German, like Bollywood with Hindi and English, but it’s still a comedy and it will work,” Schaub says.
Not that there’s any reason why minority languages can’t have critical or commercial success: Welsh-language film Solomon a Gaenor was nominated for an Oscar and Mel Gibson made entire blockbusters in Mayan (Apocalypto) and Aramaic (The Passion of the Christ).
After all, it doesn’t make a difference to foreign audiences whether the original dubbed or subtitled language was Romansh or Romanian. “If the film is globally understandable, I don’t think there’s any barrier to travelling – and our film has found a way out of Switzerland, which is very nice,” Schaub said.
No Romansh directors
Neither Schaub nor scriptwriter Sabine Pochhammerexternal link speaks Romansh – the script was translated from German into Romansh by award-winning author Leo Tuorexternal link and the working language on the shoot was German, which everyone could speak.
Schaub is an experienced directorexternal link and has made several documentaries in Romansh, but some people might argue that one way of developing Romansh cinema would be to support Romansh-speaking directors and scriptwriters.
“But there are no Romansh-speaking fiction directors,” he replies. “They looked for them. There are directors from Graubünden, but they are German speakers. For documentaries it’s different. It wasn’t my decision to approach a German-speaking scriptwriter, but she did an excellent job.”
Schaub says the 24-day shoot in Sagognexternal link, a very photogenic municipality with around 700 inhabitants on the edge of Beverin Nature Parkexternal link, was “a lot of fun” and went without a hitch.
“It was a risk because it’s difficult to shoot in Romansh and to find the right Romansh actors. There are good Romansh actors but not many of them, so you have to manipulate the characters in the script around the actors.”
Indeed Rebecca Indermaur, who puts in a strong central performance as Mona, delivers her lines in Romansh but can’t speak it. “She grew up in the area but her parents are not native speakers,” says Schaub, who had a Romansh language coach to check the language, give tips on pronunciation and discuss changes in the dialogue.
“It was a really good collaboration – also with the locals,” he explains. “It wasn’t stressful, like making a film in cities.”
‘Romansh will survive’
“There’s a saying that if you want success in Switzerland you have to have mountains in your film!” Schaub says. “I shot a film in Zurich that was very successful, “Giulias Verschwindenexternal link” (Julia’s Disappearance), but for American and world sales the mountains are exotic.”
Whether Amur Senza Fin results in a rush of applications for Romansh courses remains to be seen, but Andreas Gabriel at Lia Rumantscha is cautiously optimistic.
“The number of Romansh speakers is more or less stable, although the total population is growing. The most important thing is that the language is used with joy and verve. As long as it is spoken and written every day, Romansh will survive.”
Amur Senza Fin
Amur Senza Fin was made for television on a budget of CHF2 million ($2.1 million), funded primarily by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent company.
It opened the Locarno Festival, was shown in 20 cinemas around the country in a one-off viewing on August 20 and has appeared on long-haul flights of Swiss and Lufthansa.
It was broadcast on Swiss public television, SRF, on September 23. It is also available on DVD.end of infobox