Swiss satire proves a hit in Locarno

Robin Harsch (right) plays François and Natacha Koutchoumov, Rosa, in Another Man pardo.ch

Swiss director Lionel Baier's ironic tale of a small town film critic is causing a stir at the Locarno film festival.

This content was published on August 15, 2008 - 18:05

Un autre homme (Another Man) is the only Swiss movie in this year's international competition, the results of which will be announced on Saturday. World distribution rights have already been snapped up.

The film celebrated its world premiere at the festival on August 9. Press reaction has been very good, with many – real - critics calling it Baier's best film yet.

The rights to the movie, which is in French, have already been picked up by a French sales agent.

"The response from the audience, the critics and the industry has been very positive," Agnieszka Ramu, head of press for the film, told swissinfo on Friday. "It will accelerate the process of selling it abroad."

Another Man tells the story of François, who writes stories and film reviews for a small, weekly newspaper in the secluded Vallée du Joux, in western Switzerland, having moved there with his teacher girlfriend.

A Medieval French graduate, François has no experience as a critic – and as it turns out, no strong opinions of his own.

Stuck for what to write about the films shown every week in his local cinema, he finds the answer in the highly specialised Paris-based magazine, Travelling, whose reviews he copies word for word.

Even if the articles don't go down well in the village, they help to open up the world of cinema for François, who starts to travel to the nearby city of Lausanne for press screenings.

Double life and deception

It is here he meets and starts a relationship with the manipulative and fascinating Rosa, who works as a critic for a large Swiss daily. He starts to lead a double life until his plagiarism is discovered...

"I've had the desire for a long time to do a film on deception," Baier told swissinfo at Locarno before the premiere last week.

As inspiration Baier took a book by Swiss painter Félix Vallotton about a murderous art critic. He had Vallotton in mind visually as well, filming totally in black and white to bring out the contrasts – city versus country, making up versus real literature - and harsh emotions in the film.

"Vallotton's etchings show small, intimate scenes of life with different characters, like a separation, an argument, often between a man and a woman," Baier explained.

"I wanted the film to get as close as possible to the rather cruel and sensual side of these etchings."

For François, Baier wanted actor Robin Harsh's "crisp and nervous" physique, filming him very close up – he spends a lot of time in various stages of undress or smoking.

It is the third time Baier has worked with actress Natacha Koutchoumov, who plays Rosa. The Lausanne-based filmmaker was keen for her to play a less sympathetic character in contrast to her roles in his previous two feature films: Stupid Boy and Stealth, both of which were distributed in the United States.

Most personal film

Despite Another Man bearing no outside resemblance to his life, Baier says it is still "the most personal film I've made" as it develops topics that he feels strongly about such as pretence, sexuality and mixing up genres.

The result is a light-hearted but sharp satire on "our insatiable need to please and pretend".

The world of the film critic is gently sent up as well, as seen with the crashing contrast of Francois's one-man provincial show and the "club" of city critics who discuss movies using their own specialised vocabulary.

Apart from directing, Baier also wrote and filmed Another Man – all on a small budget.

Whatever the outcome of the competition, the 31-year-old says he enjoys the festival as a way of gauging audience reaction and looking at other directors' works.

"Being at Locarno is always something exceptional," he said.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Locarno

Lionel Baier

Lionel Baier was born on December 13, 1975 in Lausanne, into a Swiss family of Polish extraction.

Between 1995 and 1999 he studied at the Faculty of Arts at Lausanne University.
Since 2002 Baier has been in charge of the cinema section at the University of Art and Design, Lausanne.

His first two fiction features, Stupid Boy (2004) and Stealth (2006), were internationally distributed in several European countries as well as in the United States and were also shown at various festivals around the world.

Another Man is Baier's third fiction feature.

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International competition

This is the Locarno Film Festival's flagship competition, which the festival says shows a "panorama of contemporary auteur cinema where young talent rubs shoulders with that of established directors".

A jury of major figures from the film world is charged with choosing one film from 18 works from around the world to receive the Golden Leopard award.

This year the films come from 16 different countries. Six are first films and Baier's is the only Swiss entry.

The results will be announced on Saturday evening.

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