Review: ‘Sergeant Zumbuhl’

"Sergeant Zumbuhl" is the hauntingly precise account of a ramrod straight, by-the-book beat cop and where his inflexible integrity leads him. Set in a small town in German-speaking Switzerland, circa 1964, this meticulous and unflattering portrait won few friends on release last fall in its home territory but is a quietly powerful, if unsavory, piece of work that deserves international fest exposure.

“Sergeant Zumbuhl” is the hauntingly precise account of a ramrod straight, by-the-book beat cop and where his inflexible integrity leads him. Set in a small town in German-speaking Switzerland, circa 1964, this meticulous and unflattering portrait won few friends on release last fall in its home territory but is a quietly powerful, if unsavory, piece of work that deserves international fest exposure.

A sort of Judge Dredd without the muscles, the hardware or the bustling jurisdiction, Sergeant Zumbuhl (Michael Gwisdek) loves the law and lives to enforce it. Obsessed by the disasters brought on by drunken driving, Zumbuhl stands watch outside the local bar, determined to crack down on inebriated citizens, even if it means arresting the local mayor.

The mayor, who owns the gravel pit where Zumbuhl’s son Albin (Jurgen Vogel) operates a crane, retaliates by dumping Albin from the dirt bike team he sponsors, even though Albin — a hunky misfit who stutters — is obviously a splendid rider.

Rather than accept demotion on a trumped up charge, Zumbuhl resigns from the force and takes a dreary job at the local railroad station. Discovering a savagely raped girl on the tracks, Zumbuhl nurses her to recovery while conducting a private investigation. His own son turns out to be the culprit. Zumbuhl’s code of honor dictates his next move, with interesting results.

Insular mentalities are captured in amber by helmer Urs Odermatt, whose own father was a cop in a comparable setting, and the tale is crisply and intelligently lensed with attention to period decor and (a now nearly lost) regional accent.

Performances are tops across the board. The tragicomic tone is nicely abetted by a classically inflected score heavily influenced by Brahms.

Sergeant Zumbuhl

(SWISS-GERMAN)

Production

A Nordwest Film, Triluna Film (Hori)/Sera Filmproductions (Munich) production , in association with Schweizer Fernsehen (Zurich), ZDF (Mainz) and Teleclub (Zurich). (International sales: Condor Films.) Produced by Rudolf Santschi. Co-producers, Urs Odermatt, Walter Saxer. Directed, written by Urs Odermatt. Camera (color), Rainer Klausmann; editor, Ingrid Broszat; music, Norbert J. Schneider; art direction, Susanne Jauch; sound , Chris Price. Reviewed at Vevey Film Festival (noncompeting), July 26, 1995. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Sergeant Zumbuhl ... Michael Gwisdek Maria ... Anica Dobra Albin ... Jurgen Vogel The Mayor ... Rolf Hoppe Police Chief ... Norbert Schwientek
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