Apr 18, 2008

The Swissmakers

"We believe that the assimilation of a foreigner
happens when the subject has spent enough time in our country without having been noticed"
. This is one of the opening sentences of "The Swissmakers", an acute satire about integration/assimilation policies of foreign citizens in Switzerland.

After immigrants have made a formal request for citizenship, it is the duty of the agents from the "office for assimilation" to compile a report of "good candidacy" which, together with an interview with a commission of local citizens (mostly about Swiss history but also on other aspects of private life) determines whether or not the “Swiss wannabe” deserves his/her passport.

According to Rodmer, the strict, inflexible, super-efficient, thick-headed agent from the Zurich office and one of the main character of the movie, every decision of the commission is based on this report. This is the reason why his approach to the job is extremely rigid. “An agent has to pose precise questions to get precise answers: no empathy has to be established with the candidate otherwise the decision is fatally flawed”. The other agents of the office, Fischer, who is absent-minded, romantic and day-dreamer, has a different view. He thinks that sometimes “also instinct may provide a valuable judgement”.

The cases they have to examine are an Italian-communist pastry chef from Apulia, a dancer from Yugoslavia and a psychiatrist from Germany. "Everybody is welcome in Switzerland...the tourist as much as a worker...but things become different when somebody wants to become citizen..." are told the agents on their training. Their job is to constantly monitor how these people live: the conditions of their apartments, the amount of savings in the bank, the stability of their private life... They have to check this constantly and even randomly. If things are not clear, extra-work on Saturdays is needed to make an informed decision. Any single aspect of the candidates’ life has to match what somebody should expect from a Swiss citizen. No deviation from the norm is considered licit if anybody has serious intentions about citizenship. For example “curtains on the window are a symptom that you house is in order, you cannot live without any”, says a neighbour of the Yugoslavian dancer to Fischer, in one private conversation. As Rodmer puts it, even “happiness” is worthless: what counts is for people (foreigners) to learn how to integrate themselves.

The two guys work together, but then Fischer gets tired of the methods imposed by Rodmer. Being loyal to his role though, he “makes” a Swiss citizen, but in a different way…

The dialogues are highly enjoyable, while the direction is sometimes too pedantic. The movie was released in 1978, and apparently, it is one of the most successful Swiss movie ever made. It was blockbuster until 1997, when it was surpassed by Titanic..but honestly it’s way better than Di Caprio’s worst movie..

2 comments:

Dany said...

Another good candidate for a night of hunting rats and cinema at Rigot!

Pierre-Louis said...

first thing first, tintnic was so romantic i loved it...

but seriously i thought this was a new movie when reading your review...sounds pretty contemporaneous to me...