Film Review: The Swissmakers (Die Schweizermacher)

Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Karla Palos

The 1978 film Die Schweizermacher (The Swissmakers) is a good cop/bad cop comedy directed by Rolf Lyssy which dramatizes the bureaucratic exchanges between immigration officials and immigrants applying for Swiss citizenship. The film focuses on two officials: Walo Lüönd, who plays the role of Max Bodmer, and Emil Steinberg, who plays the role of the recently initiated immigration official assistant, Mortiz Fischer, whose job it is to investigate the habits of the applicants with severe scrutiny to see whether they are worthy of Swiss citizenship. Among the applicants we encounter a ballerina, a doctor, and a factory worker, who have been in the country for more than ten years and are waiting for an audience with the council who will decide their future in the country.

The title The Swiss Makers illustrates in its explicitness the plot of the film in a more less comedic fashion as it shows the power that is vested in the officials to decide who can or cannot become a Swiss citizen. While Bodmer takes his ideals of what the righteous applicant should possess overboard, Fischer is less demanding about such qualities and tries to interact with the applicants. Bodmer’s judgment is based on the characteristics he feels a well deserving Swiss citizen should have, such as being detail-oriented, patriotic, ordinary, hard-working, but, more importantly, he wants to make sure that they are contributing in some way to the nation, either by practicing a profession, or by working in what he considers a productive job. Fischer, on the other hand, looks for the less holistic human side of each applicant and takes into account the honesty and integrity of the individuals.

The film raises an important question of what it means to belong to a nation. The ballerina, for instance, explains that, despite lived most of her life in Switzerland, living under constant surveillance makes her feel like a stranger and a criminal in her own country. Each individual struggles in their own way to demonstrate that they belong, from the Italian factory worker learning Swiss history, to the doctor raising the Swiss flag each morning, to the ballerina conforming the behavioral norms of a decent Swiss woman. In addition, the film also sheds light on the existing prejudices against foreigners. Bodmer, illustrates a deep-seated pessimism by assuming the worst of each person, while Fischer sees the beauty in difference and even questions the concept of the norm.

Die Schweizermacher provides interesting and very natural dialogues that go beyond the usual discourse and touch the heart of the concerns that many who confront the difficulties of going through the process of naturalization. The choice of actors fits well with the role that each character plays; on the one hand, we have the rigid Bodmer whose presence is intimidating, and, on the other, we have Fischer whose character makes us feel as if we were talking to a-friend. As for the applicants, the actors assimilate their role so well that we can even feel sympathy for them in the frustrating situation they experience. The music adds a special touch to the sometimes comic, sometimes serious tone of the film. At times we feel we are present with the characters and at others it gives the idea that we are watching a jocular play.

Rolf Lyssy offers a great comedy, charged with a powerful political message. His film triumphs not only as a artistic medium, but also transmitter of a strong message about the immigration system.

– Karla Palos

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