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ALPINE FIRE

Switzerland, 1986 (MIFF 1988)

Director: Fredi M. Murer

Echoing the work of filmmakers such as Herzog (especially Kasper Hauser), Bunuel, Flaherty and Vincent Ward's Vigil, Alpine Fire takes place entirely on the high slopes of a mountain in the Swiss Alps and centres on the lives of a close-knit family, whose only neighbours are the wife's parents who live within signalling distance "Alpine Fire slips a treble whammy to everyone who thought that 'Swiss' and 'devastating' were contradictory terms Fredi Murer's film takes flight in its opening moments, and then soars all the way through to an ending as awesome and cathartic as the highest Greek tragedy Its impact springs directly from its method scrupulously detailed and naturalistic observation of a quite extraordinary reality the family's chief problem is their son, a slightly retarded deaf-mute, who is fast coming into puberty The time-honoured cure for his frustrations is rock-breaking, and the father sets his son to building stone walls, as he himself did in his youth But the boy's case is more extreme he takes off alone up the mountain and builds his own small empire of fortresses, towers and phallic monuments And when his teenage sister Belli comes to bring him food, she stays the night with him Murer's triumph is that he provides all the information without spelling anything out; he lets us discover these people and their relationships gradually through their actions, their faces, and most especially, through their looks at each other The central performances fromTho-mas Nock and Johanna Lier as the brother and sister are as startmgly physical as those in a film like The Ballad of fVar-ayama - and it's alongside Imamura's masterpiece that Alpine Fire takes its rightful place as the most moving 'family romance' in recent cinema " - Tony Rayns 'Time Out'

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