A ragtag group of Swiss conscripts gets itself into hot water during routine maneuvers in “Neutral,” an original and thrilling “what if?” scenario leached of much visual tension by decision to shoot in grainy digital video. Fests may still go for unique item, and the small screen beckons, but theatrical prospects appear dim.
Led by no-nonsense hard-ass Lieutenant Molto (Roberto Bestazzoni), a half-dozen Swiss citizens, fulfilling their annual mandatory fortnight of service, head into one last wilderness drill. None of the men save Molto take the operation seriously; in fact, one of them has nothing but beer in his backpack. When they screw up an arranged “ambush” of another squad and are beaten by the men for their trouble, the resulting confusion finds them marching blindly into France — in violation of international law. Their covert trip back includes a brief dalliance with a farmer’s daughter, sudden heroics and unexpected death. Helmer Xavier Ruiz neatly sidesteps Hollywood cliches in the material via Bestazzoni’s gutsy perf and fine support from principals, while tech credits overcome shaky, bleached video images by relying to great effect upon d.p. Christophe Serrare’s vertiginous crane shots.