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Julia Furer on Creating a Modern Tragedy

Swiss director to track preps debut feature ‘Bahija’

Julia Furer, Switzerland, director of 'Julian'
Courtesy: Julia Furer

Julia Furer’s graduate short “Julian,” which plays in Karlovy Vary Film Festival’s Future Frames section, is a modern tragedy. It portrays at a man who has lost his sense of direction and for whom work is the final security.

Managing this in a 20-minute film that rarely leaves its locale, a freight station sidings warehouse in Zurich, is already an achievement. Filming her subject, the Canadian harpsichord-maker Julian Holman with obvious sympathy but no schmaltz, is another.

Lensed in mostly medium-shot, “Julian” also captures the tenor of Holman’s tragedy. Articulate, histrionic, cultured, but alone, he is able, if only gradually, to admit to himself the enormity of his life’s calamity as he faces eviction and seeming definitive distancing from a little daughter he hasn’t seen for 12 years, after he holed up in is workshop. During that time, a once-dashing artist has aged decades.

Yet, he seems unable to do anything about his catastrophe apart from emote in sad-sack self-pity. Pulling out a record from a box of olds LPs, he signs along to Patti Smith’s lilting lullaby, “The Jackson Song,” tears streaming down his face.

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Made over three years at the Lucerne’ School of Art and Design, “using tiny fragments,” Furer creates “a complex portrait of very unusual and fascinating personality,” Future Frames program coordinator Anna Purkrabkova explained.

“We always feel the filmmaker’s hand gently directing the angle of the camera and structuring the edit in a most poetic way,” added Catherine Ann Berger, head of the Swiss Films promotion board.

Furer may be drawn to life tragedy told by their protagonists with a hint of melodrama.  She is now preparing“Bahija,” most probably her feature-debut. It turns on a woman from southern Morocco who wanted to work in a beauty salon but ends up destitute, living in a villa with neither electricity nor running water. Her life story is packed with “multiple intrigues and enemies,” Furer anticipated.

For the record, Holman returned from Zurich to Canada and ended up living under a bridge – a fate not so distant from the fractured outsider protagonists of “Above and Below,” from Nicolas Steiner, also the subject of a profile in Variety’s Switzerland: Up Next! They both form part of a promising emerging generation of on-the-rise Swiss documentary filmmakers: Think Jan Gassman (“Europe She Loves”), Anja Kofmel (“Chris the Swiss”) and  Portuguese-Swiss directors Maya Kosa and Sergio da Costa (“Rio Corgo”).

John Hopewell contributed to this article