Leading Swiss helmer Daniel Schmid applies his wicked sense of humor to the fatherland in “Beresina or the Last Days of Switzerland,” a rollicking socio-political farce that roasts just about everybody in a position of power. You don’t have to be Swiss to enjoy Schmid’s scathing indictment of corrupt stuffed shirts or to applaud the irresistible rise to power of a Russian call girl who just wants a Swiss passport. This very funny German-lingo co-production should earn Schmid new fans and find itself a niche in more sophisticated Euro theatrical markets.
In Martin Suter’s tongue-in-cheek screenplay, the beautiful young Irina (Elena Panova) is naively enamored of a fairy tale Switzerland full of Heidis and St. Bernards. While she studies Swiss history and culture in the museums, she is pressed into service by a flighty fashion designer (Geraldine Chaplin) and young shyster lawyer, Waldvogel (Ulrich Noethen), as an exotic prostitute who satisfies her illustrious customers’ every perversity. Her clients soon include the cream of Swiss society, from bank directors to politicians and TV directors. She listens raptly to the doddering divisional commander Sturzenegger (Martin Benrath) as he tells his patriotic-paranoid tales and plays war games in her apartment.
Pic uses black humor to expose Swiss high society as a hypocritical facade hiding secrets from money-laundering to pimping, with the banks involved in absolutely everything.
In contrast, Irina’s innocent love of her adopted country makes her a superb foil for Schmid and Suter’s barbs. In her first screen appearance, Russian-born thesp Panova brightens the role with her enthusiasm. She counts the days until she receives her promised passport and can bring her numerous relatives, camped out in her native Elektrostal, to this marvelous country of friendly people.
Then one day she learns she is being expelled from the country by the powerful friends who no longer find her convenient to have around. The news sends the film into its hilarious final lap, when Irina sets off a chain of events that lead, as title promises, to the last days of Switzerland.
Special mention goes to production designer Kathrin Brunner’s ironic sets, which include a National Museum full of iron maidens and a secret mountain fortress designed to shelter the nation’s leaders in case of foreign attack. Renato Berta’s lensing creates the absurd fairy-tale atmosphere pic needs to flow.