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European version of Swiss classic screened in Berlin

The choice of Germany's Cornelia Gröschel as Heidi was criticised in the Swiss press

The première of a new screen version of the classic Swiss children's story "Heidi" has been hailed by critics as one of the highlights of the Berlin film festival.

Swiss film critic, Michael Lang, said the premiere pulled the crowds and was a hit with children and adults alike.

"I was very impressed because it was a full house. About 70 or 80 per cent of the audience were children, and they were very impressed. I was very pleased with the film - the ambience was very nice; it was a nice event."

Based on Johanna Spyri's novel about a 12-year-old orphan who stays with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps and later lives with a family in Germany, the film was shot in Berlin and near Scuol in Canton Graubünden.

Its director - Markus Imboden - and production company are Swiss, but in many other respects this latest film version of a quintessentially Swiss story is very much a European co-production.

For example, French, German and Italian as well as Swiss investment went into its SFr6.5 million ($4 million) budget. A German actress, Cornelia Gröschel, plays the title role and the cast also includes French and Italian actors.

Purists are likely to argue that the new version of Heidi does not live up to the famous 1952 Swiss film. But Lang says the two should really not be compared.

"I think its very difficult to compare the two films. And I think a great quality of the new movie is that Markus Imboden did not try to [imitate] the earlier version.

"His version is very different - it's a reduction of the basic story - and he tells the story in a very modern way. For example, Peter uses the Internet, the girls have make-up, so I think there are two different movies, but it's the same world."

Lang is also convinced that the Heidi of the 21st century works just as well as the earlier one. "I think it's the only way to do it. I spoke to Imboden and he told me the same thing - he thinks it's impossible to copy a movie from the 1950s."

Responding to criticism by the Swiss tabloid newspaper "Blick" for not choosing a Swiss Heidi, Imboden has pointed out that although the fictional character is a Swiss national symbol, the story could have been set in the mountains of any other country. "We simply looked for the best actress for the part, and we found Cornelia," he says.

Imboden, who was himself born in the mountainous Bernese Oberland, says it is not just because of Switzerland that "Heidi" has such universal appeal, but also because it is a story with which people throughout the world can identify. "We did not want to make a Swiss propaganda film," he said.

However, apart from the location shots in Graubünden, the film is very Swiss in one important respect. An original version is in the Swiss-German dialect. During the filming, each member of the cast spoke in his or her own language and the finished product was dubbed, with subtitles.

The film was released on the 100th anniversary of the death of Johanna Spyri, who created the story during the early 1880s, basing it on her own experience of growing up in the Swiss Alps.

Several screen versions - including one starring Shirley Temple in 1937 - have been made of the story, which has been translated into many languages and published throughout the world.

by Richard Dawson


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