Like many of his countrymen, Swiss filmmaker Cyril Schäublin has watchmaking in his blood, a legacy he can trace back through his grandparents’ generation. That influence is apparent in his meticulously crafted second feature, “Unrest,” whose historical and philosophical parts fit together as smoothly as the gears of a Swiss timepiece.
“Unrest” is set in the 19th century in Switzerland’s Saint-Imier valley, a region famous for watchmaking which also became the political epicenter of that era’s growing international anarchist movement. Based on historical events, it tells the story of a woman, Josephine, who works in a watch factory and struggles to make ends meet. As she gradually grows uneasy with the influence of industrialization and capitalism in her village, she decides to join a local anarchist workers movement where she meets Piotr Kropotkin, a mysterious Russian traveller.
Their encounter unfolds at a time of dramatic technological and social upheaval, when time measurement, photography and the telegraph are transforming the social order, and anarchist narratives are competing with an emerging strain of nationalism. Gradually the film evolves into an exploration of who determines the stories we tell about ourselves, and how we experience time—an invitation, says Schäublin, to reconsider the perceived wisdom that “time is money.”
In his film, the director sees clear echoes of the present day. “It’s impossible to make a historical film which does not in some way also reflect the present,” he says. “The time where the film will take place can be seen as a crucial time for our present. It’s the beginning of the national states and the early architecture of industrial capitalism, defining how we understand and organise work, time and money until today.”
“Unrest” is produced by Seeland Filmproduktion and Michela Pini. The film’s Swiss financing is secured, with a French co-producer and another European partner attached. Schäublin and his producer are currently looking for a world sales agent for a film that’s set to shoot in 2021. The project was part of an online presentation of films by new Swiss voices which was hosted Wednesday evening by Swiss Films and the TorinoFilmLab.
True to its core thesis, “Unrest” arrives at a timely moment for a world being reshaped by mass upheavals and protest movements. Though set in the dying days of the 19th century, Schäublin says the film is an attempt to “show the consequences” of how that day’s activists took action to foster genuine change.
“They were not really talking so much about the possible revolution, but about real hands-on solutions between the people, like little, local revolutions,” he says. “Technology itself is one thing. Who occupies the channels of technology, and how they are used and who can use them to create fictions and other constructed forms of content, this is another question. A question that must be asked.”