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Snow White becomes a modern fairytale

A still from Snow White.

(Snow White)

The only Swiss film in this year's international competition at the Locarno film festival, Snow White, is no ordinary fairytale.

Swiss-Iraqi director Samir has created a dark tale of love and idealism set against the backdrop of Zurich's drug-fuelled and hedonistic party scene.

Described as a "melodramatic love story" the film tells the tale of the relationship between Nico, a spoiled rich girl from an affluent Zurich suburb and Paco, a successful rapper, who was raised in inner city Geneva.

These two characters couldn't be more different - Nico's life revolves around drugs, sex and parties whereas Paco is a poet-rebel, who feels he has a message to convey to the world.

Nico is fascinated by Paco and tries to copy his attitude - a move which ultimately leads to her downfall.

Samir, who is well known as a documentary maker in Switzerland – his last work was on Baghdad - says that filmgoers shouldn't be surprised by his choice of subject for his eagerly awaited feature film.

"I wasn't born in this city, in this world. But like everyone, I am fascinated by this milieu... it's one of the faces of Switzerland," he told swissinfo.

Samir said it wasn't his aim to do a "drugs" film on the spoiled rich youth of Zurich - Snow White is also a name given to cocaine - but rather "an example of modern life as it is everywhere".

Reality bites

What starts off as a fairy tale – boy meets girl and they fall in love – quickly slides into reality as the couple's different lifestyles start to take a toll on their relationship.

The warning signs are already apparent early on in the film where Nico, portrayed by upcoming French actress Julie Fournier, conceals her background from Paco, played by real-life Swiss rapper Carlos Leal.

Paco eventually finds out about Nico's true origins – in one of the film's most powerful scenes – when he sees her family's villa.

Nico decides it is time to make some changes to her life and dumps nightclub owner Boris, with whom she was having an affair in return for entry to his exclusive club and free cocaine.

But Boris retaliates by demanding that she repays him the price of the drugs. Desperate for money and thrown out by her parents, Nico is forced into the streets. Paco meanwhile is on tour in Paris.

When events take a dramatic turn, Nico, in despair, attempts to commit suicide. However, the film veers back into the realm of the fairytale at the end when her Prince Charming – Paco - arrives to rescue her.

Documentary techniques

The dual sense of reality and fairytale in the film is also underscored by Samir's use of documentary techniques and fantastic elements.

The filmmaker makes liberal use of split screens and picture overlaps, which have become the hallmark of his documentaries. He also sometimes uses a more documentary-style "handheld" filming technique.

However, multiple images and the original soundtrack – Carlos Leal also contributed - combine to give the film an almost pop video-like feel at times.

And some scenes are pure fantasy. When Paco and Nico meet for the first time – while Paco is playing in Boris' club - Nico literally flies out of the crowd towards him as if in a dream.

Samir, who arrived in Switzerland in the 1970s, says he combined the two styles on purpose.

"My childhood in Iraq was marked by Egyptian and Indian melodramas. These films told real life stories but always with musical or artificial interludes. It's normal for me to do the same," he said.

Another strong feature of the film is that it is bilingual; being told in both Swiss-German and French, which Samir says makes it a truly Swiss film.

"Locarno is a good place to present a film to an audience that is both international and Swiss," Samir said.

"The international competition offers the opportunity of attracting a greater audience. And therefore more different views on our film."

Snow White is due to be released in Swiss cinemas in September.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Locarno

Key facts

Snow White (2005)
Director: Samir.
Script: Michael Sauter.
Stars: Julie Fournier, Carlos Leal.
Selected for the international competition at Locarno.
Release: September 1, 2005 in Switzerland.

end of infobox

In brief

Samir, whose name means storyteller, was born in 1955 in Baghdad, Iraq. His mother was Swiss, his father Iraqi.

In 1961 he came to Switzerland where he studied at School of Art and Design in Zurich.

He started off in 1981 as a freelance author and director.

Among his best-known works are: Babylon 2 (1993) and Forget Baghdad, a documentary which won a prize at Locarno in 2002.

end of infobox


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