Cool reception for sentimental Swiss comedy

Bienvenue en Suisse, by Léa Fazer. SP

Critics have panned the first film by a young Geneva director, saying it simply revisits all the old Swiss clichés and stereotypes.

This content was published on July 5, 2004 - 11:10

“Bienvenue en Suisse” (Welcome to Switzerland), pokes fun at everything Swiss, from the country’s obsession with cleanliness, secrecy and punctuality through to chocolate and cheese.

In Switzerland, as in France, critics have largely put the dampeners on 35-year-old Léa Fazer’s first film, which premiered at this year’s Cannes film festival.

“All the roles are caricatures – the Swiss are reduced to a tribe of ridiculous natives,” thundered the French daily, “Le Monde”.

"A film that will annoy the Swiss,” wrote Switzerland’s “Le Matin”.

Poor reviews

The film follows the antics of Thierry (Denis Podalydès) who returns to his native Switzerland for his grandmother's funeral.

A large inheritance awaits him as long as he appears able, in his uncle’s eyes, to make good use of it. This means he has to get back to his Helvetic roots and milk cows, grate cheese and handle firearms.

Fazer, who moved to Paris about 15 years ago, says she isn’t worried by the negative reviews.

“Criticisms pass, and the film will remain,” she said.

“Bienvenue en Suisse looks at the absurdity of prejudices, and we are laughing at ourselves. It’s not meant to reduce Switzerland to a bunch of stereotypes – quite the opposite. I tried in a subtle, elegant way to show the good in Switzerland,” she added.

Fazer has found sympathy in some quarters, notably “Le Temps” newspaper, which said the film did not merit such a savaging by film critics.

“Viewed as it should be, as a sitcom-style comedy in a feature-film format, the results are more or less satisfactory,” it wrote.

Swiss diversity

Fazer says the movie reflects the wonderful diversity of Switzerland, which is split into four different linguistic regions.

“You could say there are several Switzerlands,” she explained, “and all these facets allow the film to cross genres, from romantic comedy to satire or political-social commentary."

Fazer says the humour in Bienvenue en Suisse is subtle and meant as a discrete homage to her home country.

“Bienvenue en Suisse has its layers of meaning, but for the most part, it is a sentimental comedy,” she insisted.

“The Frenchwomen who saw the film have all asked their husbands to take them to Switzerland on their next holiday.”

swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

In brief

Thierry (Denis Podalydès), an anthropologist based in Paris, returns to his native Switzerland for the funeral of his grandmother. There, an inheritance surprises Thierry and wife Sophie (Emmanuelle Devos).

When the challenge of a new life in his home town seems overwhelming, his cousin Aloïs Couchepin (Vincent Perez) comes to the rescue.

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