Locarno film festival honours Swiss film director Schmid

The Locarno film festival has awarded an honorary Leopard -- it's top prize -- to the Swiss-born film maker Daniel Schmid. The award preceded a special screening of Schmid's new film.

This content was published on August 9, 1999 - 11:08

The Locarno film festival has awarded an honorary Leopard -- it's top prize -- to the Swiss-born film maker Daniel Schmid. The award preceded a special screening of Schmid's new film.

There was a sell-out audience of about 10,000 people in Locarno's Piazza Grande to watch film star Geraldine Chaplin present Schmid with the Leopard of Honour at the weekend.

Among those watching were the Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, senior federal and cantonal officials and representatives of Switzerland's biggest bank.

It was something of an irony that they were present for Saturday’s premier of a film which is a venomous anti-establishment comedy.

The film "Beresina, or The Last Days of Switzerland" tells the story of Irina, an ingenuous Russian call-girl, whose clients include most of the country's political and business leaders. In her quest to obtain a coveted Swiss passport, Irina triggers a right-wing coup d'état, with unexpected consequences both for herself and the country.

"Beresina" attacks some of Switzerland's most sacred cows, including the army, the defence of traditional values and the world of high finance.

The irreverent comedy also recalls many of the scandals that have shaken Switzerland in the past 15 years, from subversive right-wing activities to corrupt government ministers and money laundering.

The film's controversial subject matter has led some commentators to lambast Schmid, accusing him of being a "Nestbeschmutzer" -- someone who dirties his own nest.

It's a charge that the Flims-born film-maker does not take seriously. He also dismisses the criticism that the film pokes fun at the Switzerland of the past and is therefore no longer relevant. Schmid says that anyone who thinks the country has opened up and become more liberal in the past decade is living in cloud cuckoo land.

Despite, or perhaps because, of the controversial nature of the film, "Beresina" is expected to do well at the box office. That's no mean feat when you consider that Switzerland's last commercial hit, Rolf Lyssy's "Die Schweizermacher", dates back to 1978.

"Beresina" was certainly well-received at Locarno, reinforcing the opinion that the festival's recognition of the achievements of Schmid, who's been making films for thirty years, was long overdue.


Written by SRI staff.

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