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Jewish life Forbidden love at the Zurich Film Festival

Motti's mum tries to matchmake

Motti and his mother at a "shidduch" matchmaking meeting

(Film trailer)

When "Wolkenbruchexternal link" premiered at this year's Zurich Film Festivalexternal link, it provided a window onto a world some people never knew existed: that of Orthodox Jews living in the heart of Switzerland's most bustling city. 

The movie centres around Motti Wolkenbruch, a young Jewish man living in Zurich who breaks the rules, but he's not the only star of this story: significantly contributing to the laughs and plot line are the other members of his community who walk the streets of the Wiedikon district in Zurich in their kippahs and payot (curly sideburns). According to the Federal Statistical Office, there are more than 4,000 Jewish people in the city of Zurich and more than 6,000 in the canton.

The coming of age comedy is based on the Swiss bestseller, “Wolkenbruch's wondrous journey into the arms of a Schickseexternal link”, written in German and Yiddish by Jewish author Thomas Meyer, who also penned the screenplay. He's not religious but says he rediscovered his Jewish roots while researching his book. 

His chosen director is Michael Steiner, who made a name for himself in Switzerland with films like "My name is Eugen", "Grounding" and "Sennentuntschi". The two have been friends for about twenty years, and Michael lived in Wiedikon for ten years, downstairs from Orthodox Jewish neighbours. He sometimes turned the lights on for them on the Sabbath. interviewed the two at the Zurich Film Festival.

'Wolkenbruch' film An Orthodox Jew who breaks the rules

Screenwriter Thomas Meyer and director Michael Steiner talk about their comedy, "Wolkenbruch", working in Yiddish and keeping things authentic.

Introducing Motti Wolkenbruch

Motti, the lead character, is not interested in the marriage candidates proposed by his domineering mother, played with gusto by Inge Maux. Instead, he falls in love with non-Jewish girl Laura, a so-called 'Schickse', who has a small backside and likes to party, unlike the candidates from Orthodox Jewish households proposed by his mother. But choosing her is a recipe for disaster.

Motti is played by Joel Basman, who is Jewish, but not Orthodox, and was born in Zurich to a Swiss mother and an Israeli father, both of whom were tailors in the Swiss fashion industry. He was raised bilingual, speaking Swiss German and Hebrew, and had to learn Yiddish for the role. As part of the research for the film, he and other crew members were invited to a Sabbath dinner at the home of Françoise Schwarz, who lives in the Orthodox community in Zurich, to learn more about the culture. They were treated to traditional dishes such as soup with "Kneidlech", dumplings made from matzo dough. The host family sang and translated the Hebrew blessings for their visitors. 

Fighting prejudice

Author and scriptwriter Meyer, is not a big fan of Orthodox-style arranged marriages ("Shidduch" in Yiddish) or strict community rules. He told,"It is not about individualism or your own needs. If you have them, you have to bury them, in order to be able to keep up that lifestyle. That for me is not a beautiful thing." Michael Steiner, for his part, is hoping that by portraying how Orthodox Jews live and speak, "it may kill prejudice and facilitate dialogue between different cultures". 

"Wolkenbruch", with a budget of CHF3.8 million ($3.8 million), was produced by Zurich-based Turnus Filmexternal link in partnership with DCM Film Distribution and Swiss Public Television, SRF. It will be officially released in Swiss cinemas on October 25. The Zurich Film Festivalexternal link runs until 7 October and is showing more than 160 films from 48 countries. Among the stars attending, and pounding the distinctive green carpet, are Judi Dench, Johnny Depp and Donald Sutherland.

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Jews living in Switzerland
(Kai Reusser/

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