Locarno Film Review: ‘Longwave’

Lionel Baier's period comedy delights in film history, but feels too forced and artificial in its striving for 1970s screwball vibe.

Valerie Donzelli, Michel Vuillermoz, Patrick Lapp, Francisco Belard, Jean-Stephane Bron, Paul Riniker, Patricia Andre, Adrien Barazzone, Lionel Baier. (French, Portuguese dialogue)

The humor is more than a touch too local in the first half of “Longwave,” though things improve during the second part of Lionel Baier’s comedy about a Swiss Radio crew caught up in Portugal’s 1974 Carnation Revolution. The chameleon-like helmer once again demonstrates his thoroughgoing knowledge of and delight in film history, yet his striving for a 1970s screwball vibe feels too forced and artificial, torn between homage and a wink-wink sensibility. Films Boutique has reported brisk sales for Latin America, and while “Longwave” has scattered moments of genuine amusement, its hyper-localized funny bone isn’t an ideal transplant candidate.

Baier has a healthy sense of humor about his countrymen, given free rein in this farce when an unlikely duo of radio personalities are paired on assignment to report on Swiss investment in Portugal, a country described as “less developed than we are, but still nice.” Julie (Valerie Donzelli) hosts a feminist talkshow that she wants more airtime for, and Cauvin (Michel Vuillermoz) is a seasoned reporter forever reminding colleagues of his battle-scarred resume. He’s looking to pump up the assignment’s importance, while she sees it as a chance to earn brownie points with the network; their chalk-and-cheese pairing makes for predictable friction, with veteran driver/sound guy Bob (Patrick Lapp) acting as soothing buffer.

Once in Portugal, they discover that Swiss generosity has been less than successful. Cauvin’s refusal to acknowledge the depths of his incompetent Portuguese leads them to hire a translator named Pele (Francisco Belard), a young man whose Marseilles-inflected French derives from his love for the films of Marcel Pagnol. Just when they’re resigned to coming home empty-handed, they realize a revolution is going on and head to Lisbon to get the scoop for Swiss Radio. Caught up in the heady atmosphere of political and sexual liberation, the four become energized and shed their rigidity.

Popular on Variety

Baier (“Another Man”) strives hard to re-create the style and tone of comedies from the era, and his general avoidance of postmodernist superiority is unquestionably refreshing. Yet his quest for jokey verisimilitude has too much of a phony, staged quality, milking laughs out of, for example, tangled telephone cords (oh, those quaint devices of yesteryear). Certain joke strands, such as Julie’s deeply Swiss need to have everyone vote on all decision making, are best appreciated by viewers in the cantons, while others, such as Cauvin’s ongoing massacre of his host’s language, wear thin after a few outings.

An incongruous dance number during the revolution has a sweet feel and harks back to musicals from the period, yet its one-off nature leaves auds wanting more — a full-blown musical from the cine-literate Baier, in the manner of Christophe Honore, could be a welcome addition to his oeuvre. It certainly would be less stilted than the cutesy iris shots and split screens.

Most appealing is Baier’s sensitivity to music, always a key element in his films. Here he’s immersed in George Gershwin, especially “Porgy and Bess,” and the jazz-inflected tracks, with their intimations of drama, provide an aural meatiness not frequently matched by the action.

Locarno Film Review: 'Longwave'

Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande), Aug. 10, 2013. Running time: 85 MIN. Original title: "Les Grandes ondes (a l’ouest)"


(Switzerland-France-Portugal) A Pathe (in Switzerland)/Happiness Distribution (in France) release of a Rita Prods., Les Films Pelleas, Bande a Part Films presentation of a Rita Prods., Les Films Pelleas, Bande a Part Films, Filmes do Tejo II, RTS Radio Television Suisse production, in association with Manon 3. (International sales: Films Boutique, Berlin.) Produced by Pauline Gygax, Max Karli, Philippe Martin, Lionel Baier. Co-producers, Maria-Joao Meier, Francois d’Artemare, Alberto Chollet, Sophie Sallin.


Directed by Lionel Baier. Screenplay, Julien Bouissoux, Baier. Camera (color, widescreen), Patrick Lindenmaier; editor, Pauline Gaillard; music, George Gershwin; production designer, Georges Ayusawa; costume designer, Francoise Nicolet; sound (Dolby SR Digital), Henri Maikoff, Stephane Thiebaut; assistant director, Angela Sequeira; choreographer, Fernando Crespo.


Valerie Donzelli, Michel Vuillermoz, Patrick Lapp, Francisco Belard, Jean-Stephane Bron, Paul Riniker, Patricia Andre, Adrien Barazzone, Lionel Baier. (French, Portuguese dialogue)

More Film

  • Bad Tales

    'Bad Tales': Film Review

    At a surprise party for his daughter, a randy Italian homeowner studies a neighbor’s wife through the sliding glass door and describes all the ways he’d like to violate her. In the bathroom, his 14-year-old son sits with his best friend, studying the hardcore porn sites listed in the browsing history of dad’s cell phone. [...]

  • Charlatan

    FAME Unveils New Slate, Celebrates 20th Anniversary in Berlin with 'Charlatan,' 'Servants' (EXCLUSIVE)

    U.K.-Irish production company Film and Music Entertainment (FAME), in Berlin with Agnieszka Holland’s “Charlatan” and Ivan Ostrochovsky’s “Servants,” has unveiled five new film projects from its Irish division, including new films by Georgian helmer Marian Khatchvani and Albanian director Fatmir Koci. “Charlatan,” which FAME co-produced with Prague-based Marlene Film Production and Kevan Van Thompson (“Jojo [...]

  • Brazil's Fenix Films Expands Into International

    Brazil's Fenix Films Expands into International Co-Productions

    Brazilian distributor Fenix Films is moving into co-productions with three projects, including two international projects, one featuring Vincent Cassel and the other Berlin Silver Bear winner Paulina García. Fenix Films’ first international co-production, “Baden Powell,” is a documentary about Baden Powell, considered by some to be the greatest Brazilian guitarist of all time. Directed by [...]

  • LeBron James

    LeBron James’ SpringHill Entertainment Seeking Big New Overall Content Deal (EXCLUSIVE)

    LeBron James is looking for a slam dunk of a new overall deal for his content company SpringHill Entertainment, insiders familiar with the talks told Variety. Thanks to a wide field of potential suitors, the production entity is currently considering separate deals in film and television at different studios, sources said. Disney Television Studios, Universal [...]

  • Undine

    Berlin: IFC Nabs Christian Petzold's 'Undine' (EXCLUSIVE)

    IFC Films has acquired U.S. rights to “Undine,” a reimagining of an ancient myth from Christian Petzold. The deal continues the relationship between the indie distributor and the German auteur — the two previously worked together on Petzold’s “Phoenix.” “Undine” debuted at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. IFC Films will release the movie in [...]

  • Neon Acquires North American Rights to

    Neon Acquires North American Rights to Berlin Film Festival's 'Gunda'

    Neon has acquired North American rights to “Gunda,” directed by “Aquarela” helmer Victor Kossakovsky and executive produced by Joaquin Phoenix. The film made its world premiere in the Encounters section of the Berlin Film Festival. It is one of the few films in the festival this year to have closed a U.S. distribution deal so [...]

  • The Woman Who Ran

    'The Woman Who Ran': Film Review

    Three distant mountains; three chatty encounters between long-acquainted women; three comically tiresome intrusions from self-important men shot only from behind. Prolific South Korean arthouse staple Hong Sangsoo has dealt in playful, internally rhyming triplicate before, but never with such a gently sardonic female focus, and seldom as straightforwardly as in his airy, charming Berlin competition [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content