Swiss producer/director team of Raphaël Dubach and Mateo Ybarra (duties shared) talk to Business Doc Europe about witnessing (and chronicling) the full mobilisation of the Swiss Army.
In early Autumn 2019, Geneva faced an unprecedented security crisis: the imminent attack by an anti-capitalist terrorist group known as the Global Liberation Front (GLF). The Swiss army was immediately called upon to assist the police force in containing the threat to the city as quickly as possible.
Ok, the attack was fictitious, but nevertheless for ten days filmmakers Mateo Ybarra & Raphaël Dubach followed the huge military simulation exercise that took place both in the city and the surrounding countryside.
At the same time, the filmmakers say, they were offered the opportunity to “offer a poetic desire to draw the viewers away from preconceived ideas in the heart of one of the most unique armies in the world and one of the most controversial institutions in Switzerland.”
The project went through various forms, say the pair who together run Swiss production house Jeunes Sauvages. Both have also served time as conscripts in the Swiss Army corps.
“Let’s say that, initially, we wanted to tell our experience from our own compulsory military services. In Switzerland, the army is mandatory for men and voluntary for women which can be surprising for many people. It’s a very controversial institution that is handling a lot of people, money and time,” the pair say.
“Its very purpose is deeply questioned amongst the Swiss population. But instead of using a frontal approach, we thought it would be much more interesting to show its human dimension – even more, as the soldiers that constitute the Swiss army are civilian soldiers.
Then, to tell if this exercise was a success or not, we’ll leave it to the audience.”
After numerous requests to the highest echelons of the military, the pair were finally allowed to witness at first hand the manoeuvres within the proposed theatre of conflict, as well as engage with the army personnel whose levels of enthusiasm differed from soldier to soldier. They also gained access to the nerve centre at Army HQ.
“The subject of the exercise itself, the terrorist threat, is already very heavy and serious. So we try take it a little bit more poetically and with a lighter approach. We think it invites viewers to take a step back from what they are watching and question themselves. To do so, we really tried to focus on the human level, their interactions and how they deal with this institution. What’s interesting is the diversity of behaviours. Some people are really into it, playing the game, whereas some others are definitely bored of what’s going on. And that is somehow, one of our guiding line in the process.”
In their notes for the film, Dubach and Ybarra expand on the theme of waiting, a core constituent within the process of war.
“Waiting is an integral part of the day-to-day exercise and energy of the film. It is the comma that punctuates each action, each movement, each cut in the editing process. However, this wait is not a void. It is round and full, because it is through this wait that friendships are born, that discussions blossom and interactions form. It is kind of like a small social theatre in which the most sensitive and intimate parts of our film are played out.”
They continue: “The time spent waiting is on the one hand synonymous with floating and wandering. We use them in the montage to generate daydreams and interiorization. Much like a deep breath, it invites viewers to take a step back from what they are watching and contemplate and question themselves.”
The film’s film noir jazz score will be provided by Geneva-based group l’Éclair. “We made this choice in the hopes of taking our images somewhere more poetic and to create a fictional shift in the documentary,” they say. “L’Éclair surprises with musical compositions made up of psychedelic groove and influences as diverse as Italian erotic film music, seventies jazz and more electronic sounds.”
During the pandemic, the pair started to edit their work but have since enlisted the support and talent of acclaimed Swiss filmmaker/editor Lucia Garcia Martinez. The colour grading and mix will be completed in the Fall.
“For us, constraints are a source of ingenuity and surprise,” they add. “As we were shooting scenes that were unpredictable, fast and could not be repeated, we made the radical choice to use only one camera, a series of prime lenses and rely solely on a tripod. Given that with these limitations there is no room for error, we were forced to be very rigorous in the choice of our framing and to also think very carefully about the intention and meaning of each sequence we shot. The result is a raw visual aesthetic where composition, cutting and off-screen are of major importance.”