LOCARNO, Switzerland — Switzerland’s Contrast Film, producers of “Wonderland,” are entering TV production, developing what looks likely to be Switzerland’s most ambitious shorter format TV series project to date.
News, however scant, of the big TV series comes as Contrast Film’s Stefan Eichenberger, Ivan Madeo and senior partner Urs Frey advance on a 2018 movie slate which includes “Storm,” “The Good Reputation” and “Marlen’s Garden.” Following on the socially-pointed disaster movie “Wonderland,” these new films’ themes, attitudes and cast strategy confirm the Bern and Zurich-based production house as one of thew most ambitious and envelope-pushing of producers in Switzerland.
Contrast Film’s first TV series weighs in as “the biggest TV series ever produced by a Swiss production company,” Madeo said. Designed as a six-part international co-production, its budget will range from $10 million to $13 million.
Based on true events, the historical period drama is set between WWI and WWII, and “a real story which is relevant to the whole of Europe and changed the history of the 20th century,” Eichenberger added, suggesting that “topic-wise, though maybe not tone-wise,” the series might bear some comparisons with “Babylon Berlin.”
The series will shoot in German, French and partly Swiss German,. It will be directed by a young Swiss director currently working on several TV series outside Switzerland.
Most Swiss TV series target home audiences. Export deals are the icing on the cake. On the Contrast TV series, “the goal is to be competitive with Netflix series, for example: To go international, acting at eye level with other bigger pan-European series,” said Eichenberger.
Launched in 2009 by Frey, then owner of Twin productions, one of Switzerland’s biggest commercials production houses, Contrast Film’s movie slate aims to be equally boundary breaking, in accessing international markets and cast, and even taboo-busting.
The films often share other denominators, Madeo and Eichenberger argued. They look for projects inspired by true stories, or at least with one foot in reality, said Madeo; as members of a younger generation of producers, they seek to give a voice to a new generation of Swiss filmmakers, currently reinventing the Swiss film industry by boldly addressing uncomfortable but relevant issues; they also focus on “unconventional productions,” Eichenberger added. He cited “Wonderland,” one film – not a 10-part anthology – but directed by 10 filmmakers.
“Storm” also displays hallmarks of Contrast’s focus and ambitions. Set to shoot from April/May in Switzerland, Germany and Spain, it is directed, rarely for Contrast, by an established filmmaker, Oliver Rihs (“Ready Steady Ommm”), whose first feature, “Brombeerchen,” was released in 2002. But, Contrast Film’s biggest movie to date, it is co-produced with Germany’s Niami Film and will topline two big Swiss and German stars, currently working with big American directors. Inspired by true events, it turns on Switzerland’s most famous criminal, Walter Storm, an eight-times prison escapee and hero of Germany’s post Bader Meinhof radical left. But it is narrated from the point of view of Storm’s long-time lawyer, Barbara Hug. “We try to find real stories from Switzerland that are, however, also significant outside Switzerland,” Madeo commented.
Co-produced by France’s Manny Films (“A Twelve-Year Night,” “Like Crazy”), “The Good Reputation” marks the awaited feature debut of Swiss-Mexican Mauro Mueller, a 2013 Student Oscar winner for “Mundo para Raúl.”
Presenting the title at Cannes last year, where he was chosen as a Producer on the Move, Madeo told Cineuropa “The Good Reputation” is “a scintillatingly sensual and erotic psychological drama.” It centers on the love affair between a 49-year-old rich socialite and her husband’s nephew, aged 21, who suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a severe mental disorder which means he is at one moment charming and normal, at another impossibly childish. But the nephew “exposes the emptiness of the woman’s 20-year marriage,” Madeo said. This is “the story of a woman who had to reinvent her life when she had everything, renouncing everything to find her real self,” he added.
Now in development, “Marlen’s Garden,” from up-and-coming director Christine Repond, explores the love story between a modest female factory worker, Marlen and a 14-year-old, who is in love with her.
“The film tells the story of a 40-year-old woman falling in love with a very young teen – and thus questions our automatic reflex to pedophilia: What if it’s mutual love? And can you judge a person for being born with this sexual preference?” Eichneberger argued.
He added: “It is a disturbing film about a controversial subject. We’d like audiences to feel empathy for Marlen and her desperate situation, which she didn’t choose herself.”
“Storm,” “The Good Reputation” and “Marlen’s Garden” form part of a feature film slate which includes 11 films in development, as well as “Caveman,” a minority co-production with Italy, directed by Tommaso Landucci and lead-produced by Doclab Rome, winner of a Venice Golden Lion with “Sacro Gra,” by Gianfranco Rosi in 2013.
Portraying a model of Swiss respectability who is forced to turn to crime to keep up appearances, “Midnight Runner,” another Contrast Film production, will screen in San Sebastian’s prestigious and highly competitive New Directors section and almost simultaneously at the Zurich Film Festival. It serves up another provocative allegory of Switzerland, peeling away, rather like Nordic Noir, the face of upstanding citizenship to reveal a darker reality beneath.