Anyone who believes that the overthrow of existing orders is not possible without discursive rawness will be taught otherwise in Cyril Schäublin’s “Unruh”. Revolutions can also be as elegant and polite as the Russian gentleman visiting a watchmaking town in the Swiss canton of Jura in the 1970s. His name is Pyotr Kropotkin, who will later make a name for himself as a theorist of anarchism, but is also a geographer and surveyor.
In the Jura, Kropotkin (Alexei Evstratov) makes the acquaintance of the workers of the watch factory, who are organized in an anarchist, internationally networked trade union. Communist anarchism rejects any form of central authority; its ideal is local, self-governing communes. Now the Swiss community is the absolute opposite of anarchy. The factory is under a capitalist owner, working hours and efficiency are meticulously controlled, the police keep law and order. But between the opposing social forces and classes, there is never a row, not even the slightest discourtesy. A repeated gesture: whoever wants matches to light a cigarette is invited to keep the box.
The workers create the tools of their own oppression
It is not without reason that the Swiss filmmaker Cyril Schäublin won numerous prizes at various festivals for his feature film, including last year’s Berlinale. Because Schäublin analyzes the political tensions via the detour of the pedantically ticking clocks that are manufactured in the little town. The balance is a term from the watchmaker’s language, an oscillating system in the movement that has to be “balanced” exactly. The process is shown repeatedly in the film as inspectors at the factory time the time it takes the watchmakers to complete the process. Because time is money. Anyone who clears too few watches will get a wage deduction or will – with best wishes for a nice day! – quit. The workers create the tools of their own oppression.
Schäublin’s film is about fabrication and measurement, about time and space in capitalist modernity. The instruments used for this are, in addition to the clocks, the cameras. They can be used to take portraits that are used for search purposes, for example. And then there are the maps, with their divisions of territory into cantons and nations. The land surveyor Kropotkin countered this with his idea of an “anarchist map”, without centres, without borders.
All of these aspects are now combined in the cinematic moving image, which is both an image and a time medium. If domination is exercised in the film, it is because the shots always cut the time and space, things are hidden. Schäublin undermines this by shifting the center of the picture, which is suddenly no longer where it should be. The decentered picture frame anarchistly transcends its confines. The dominance of the centered, controlled gaze is called into question, the map of untamed territory crossed.
Overall, Schäublin’s film is too calculated, controlled and mastered to unleash a revolutionary élan. The relationships between anarchy and order remain all too orderly thanks to the precision with which the filmmaker proceeds. And ultimately, this kind of historical re-enactment and theater of the past is always also a practice so as not to have to talk about the present, whose left-wing discourses are too complicated and confused to run to the rhythm of a Swiss clockwork. Nevertheless, the Swiss filmmaker manages a remarkable operation: by building the regularly oscillating clock into the clock, his anarchists anchor political unrest at the heart of capitalist modernity – in the most polite way, of course.
Unrueh, Switzerland 2022 – director, script, editor: Cyril Schäublin. Camera: Silvan Hillman. With Clara Gostynski, Alexei Evstratov, Monika Stalder. Grand film, 93 minutes. Theatrical release: January 5, 2023.