They are as different as chalk and cheese. Valentin is tall and slim and co-owner of a film production company. Adi, younger by a few years, is short, rotund, shaven-headed and beset by what Valentin terms questions of ‘autonomy’. A persistent smoker of spliffs, he has also recently served time in prison.
From the account we are given in the 17-minute Brothers – A Family Film, Adi is also unpredictable and subject to prolonged bouts of anger. He has also a brilliant flair for persistent, unrelenting and very funny invective, most of it directed towards his older brother.
Valentin meanwhile takes the verbal punishment on the chin, trying to remain calm in the process, grateful for the moments of genuine brotherly love that surface from time to time.
But it would seem that there is a touch of artifice at play, and one that Adi is more than happy to go along with.
Two years ago, director Valentin Merz Tanören responded to a proposition from his former film school (Geneva) to make a short film on the subject of disability.
“For me, I was interested in responding through my brother and my mother. In Adi’s case this question of disability becomes quite ambiguous, one for me that goes more into the question of personal autonomy,” stresses the director. But the problem was that Adi was in prison and was therefore unavailable for the project.
“So I invited two actress friends to play the role of my mother and my brother,” adds Valentin. “And by doing this I made a short film which formed the structure of Brothers – A Family Film that I eventually made with Adi.”
In the new work many of the scenes are re-enactments of core sequences from the originating opus, such as a trip to the gas station where Valentin reads Adi’s horoscope, and a car journey where Adi responds petulantly (and hilariously) to Valentin’s choice of music. Plus a cake-making sequence from hell.
“With my brother it was clear that we will go to some places, we discussed it before, and that we would have some arguments which we would provoke but also let ourselves go. We agreed that then when the camera is shut off we would step out of our roles and have dinner together,” says Valentin.
The cake-making sequence in the kitchen, however, is one point when any semblance of self-restraint is parked as the pair get into an ugly, vitriolic and extended argument, emanating from Adi’s frustration at Valentin’s inability to deliver the purified butter in time. It’s a fascinating (and recognisable) familial spectacle as no insult is spared, and the powerful feelings of anger, hurt and frustration are, for once, all too genuine.
“This is a scene where I lose my control,” confirms Valentin. “And Adi’s reaction was definitely not something he calculated for the camera.”
The director explains how his brother’s problems with the world stemmed from a small, but significant, delay in development, whereby he started speaking and writing a little later than his class-mates. Schools then weren’t as inclusive as they are now, nor as progressive, and exclusion determined it would be difficult for him to adapt to society. Adi’s main social life these days is centred around the FC Zurich football team.
Adi has seen the film and likes how he is depicted (quite often he gets the last word and his is given ample opportunity to flick the finger at the camera).
“Yes, he was reacting a lot watching the film by laughing and commenting on the scenes,’ says Valentin. “I also think he is strong in his arguments and his perceptions.”
And what did he not like? “He didn’t really point out a particular moment but I think the kitchen scene… It is a moment when he sees himself getting very intense – even if the scene comes to a good end, and he has the last word.”