Dispatches from GAIFF 2022: Unrest

Dispatches from GAIFF 2022: Unrest

A startling tale of a worker’s union in a highly mechanised society

IN Unrest, Swiss filmmaker Cyril Schaublin moves his attention to the rise of an anarchist-communist movement in a watchmaking town in the Swiss Jura Mountains. The movie opens with a quote by Pyotr Kropotkin, the late Russian intellectual who is credited as the most important theorist in anarcho-communist philosophy.

“It is like communism, but without a government. They want to build a federation and to decentralise power, creating local forms of government without the concept of a nation,” explains a group of women during the film’s opening scene.

If this sounds like a spiel on socialism, that is because the movie functions in an almost similar fashion, with monologues and exchanges about the nature of labour, the nation-state, and worker’s rights. These conversations are devoid of personal fulfilment and desires, reflecting the structures that govern the lives of these characters, one in which self-actualisation is cemented out in lieu of efficiency.

It takes time to settle into it, but once you do, you are rewarded with a deeply engaging and thought-provoking work, akin to a Kurt Vonnegut fiction, that makes you wonder about the way in which the present social order is organised.

The movie follows the story of Pyotr Kropotkin (Alexei Evstratov), a cartographer by trade who makes a sojourn to the Swiss valley to document and update the map of the region. The town he lives in primarily exports watches. It is a major source of income for the town, and almost everyone within the community is employed by the local watch factory.

Self-contained batteries within clocks and watches have yet to be invented so time within the community is controlled by the authorities and people in power. Every so often, the gendarmes (police) would manually update the clocks in the municipal and public spaces. At the local post office, a sign reads “be brief, your minutes are as precious as ours.” Every second and minute is monitored so no time and by extension, productivity is ‘lost.’

While Kropotkin and the context of the watchmaking town are based on historical accounts, the other elements are entirely fictional.

The movie takes a turn for the surreal when it is revealed that the town operates under four separate times: the municipal, local, factory and church time. The factory time is eight minutes ahead of the municipal time. Workers coming from the municipal are disciplined because of the time discrepancies that exist between these places.

Pyotr meets Josephine (Clara Gostynski), a worker at the watch factory who is responsible for setting the ‘unrest wheel fitter’ within watches. She is inspired by colleagues involved in the anarchist-communist movement and decides to support their efforts. As the movie progresses, she becomes more involved but is found out by her employers and is fired as a consequence.

There is a strange, subtle violence at play within this town, which by first appearance seems like a peaceful, gentle locale. No acts of violence verbally or physically are shown on screen, but the highly regimented social order within this town is almost asphyxiating.

Despite taking place in the 1800s, the movie reads like a dystopian novel set in a neo-feudal future where labour is highly systematised and people have become inured to the violence.

“It’s a construction of the present of the past – it’s not trying to go back in time and show how it was…,” Schaublin expressed in an interview. While there are seeds of revolution slowly brimming within this town, it stands little chance to dismantle the systems in place.

Shot almost entirely in extreme close-ups and wide-shots, Schaublin successfully creates deeply evocative and visually arresting imagery. In their wide shots, human beings appear as tiny elements while buildings and architecture take centre stage adding to the anxiety present underneath the town. Yet, in their close-ups, workers and their labour are given the highest form of endearance as each movement is given care.

source – The Vibes


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