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Un Juif pour l’exemple

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Un Juif pour l’exemple

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Mountains, a green lawn. It’s 1942. While Europe is wasted by Second World War, everything looks perfect in Switzerland. The Un Juif pour l’exemple idyllic opening scene is broken by rifle shots. Soldiers. They shoot in order to drive away fugitives trying to cross the Swiss border. It’s just a prologue revealing the dark themes which the movie, and before it the book written by Jacques Chessex, addresses with courage, showing the tensions and hate hidden in a only apparently peaceful Switzerland. The movie show the violence escalation in the Payerne village (place of cows and cheese), when a pro-Nazi group of people, lead by the garage owner Fernand Ischi, decides during the Führer’s birthday to execute a gesture, meant as an "exemple" for the whole community.

The story is narrated by a double Jacques Chessex. First we have the writer, still a child, who without understanding what’s happening around him witnesses some alarming signals against his family friend Arthur Bloch, a Jewish cattle trader (a kind Bruno Ganz). On the other side there’s the seventy-years-old Chessex (André Wilms), who has to face the consequences of Un Juif pour l’exemple publication, book which causes harsh controversies among the press and the Payern citizens because digs up forgotten war tragedies.

These two Jacques are not clearly detached. Director Jacob Berger, a frequent Locarno guest (his 1 Journée has been shown in Piazza Grande in 2007), chooses to mix them, setting the old man in several 1942 scenes, so that he can be a witness but can also seed a doubt in the audience: what if everything they see is only a fictional story created by the novelist? Even more unsettling is the choice to insert contemporary cars, buildings and various objects in some scenes set in the past. This probably means we can’t simply dismiss stories like the ones narrated by the movie just thinking they belong to the past. They are part of us, of our present days, and they can happen – they do happen – right now.

Sara Groisman

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