Beresina

Or

Die Letzte Tagen der Schweiz
The Last Days of Switzerland


a film review



*contains spoilers in the form of an over-elaborate description of the plot and the meanings therein. In other words, if you enjoy surprises. Don’t read this. See the movie, and then read it. and upvote this. Yeah, that’s it And… oh yeah. If you actually find this film… let me know where you found it. I don’t know where to find it. I saw it at a film festival.*



Nationalistic arrogance caused by ignorance enjoys a special prevalence in the United States. Daniel Schmid aims at just this sort of thinking with Beresina, not among Americans, but the Swiss. Although he uses Switzerland as his scapegoat to this end, the film maintains a universal feeling that could be applied to any over nationalistic set of ideals. With a light, well-running plot and dark (as well as innocent) humor throughout, he strikes his mark as well as the various bullets that fly towards the end of the film. Switzerland is a charming country, with the beauty of the Alps and the heaps of money piled up through a long-standing non-involvement policy, and Irena is convinced that she's moving in for good. The high-class call girl, fresh out of Russia, is completely naïve with regards to basically everything except the world’s oldest profession. Her employer, a high caliber fashion designer, arranges appointments with the cocoa butter of Switzerland's social chocolate. Bank presidents, Television network heads, generals, and powerful lawyers are just a few of her clients. Though very few of these people actually take full advantage of her services, (choosing instead to unload burdens on her or engage in various pseudo-sexual perversions such as asking her to pose or licking her feet) they attempt to screw her in a wholly different way, promising her craved citizenship while truly planning to grant her nothing of the sort.

Irena has complete trust in her "many friends who help me and give me money" as she writes of them to her family, in innocent letters. She takes it upon herself to lubricate her way into Schweizerstaatsburgerschaft by learning everything she can about Swiss history. She visits museums and learns spirited patriotic songs, all the while promising her family that they can soon move in with her. Through Irena's spirited self-education we find that she really isn't stupid at all, just extremely enchanted with the idea of the promised land, a notion of Switzerland as a paradise that the director himself professes to have had as a child.

Not all the characters in the film take advantages of Irena's notions, though. One of her clients, a general, becomes one of her best friends and shows her military secrets such as the hidden, underground base in the Alps. "This is where the soldiers would have gone if Hitler's troops came over our border." "To hide?" "Ahem erm! No. No. To stand in readiness, of course!" He spends most of his appointment time with her play-acting his part in a secret coup-system set up among the old Swiss military, something which has been around for quite sometime. (the general himself is pretty old). Naturally Irena understands nothing of this but she's glad to play along with him as he asks her if she's (target name here) and then shoots her with blanks when she answers affirmatively. He promises to marry her, should she not get her citizenship in time by other means. While she's cramming her head full of Swiss history Irena meets a maid, a woman who once acquired her citizenship in the very same job as Irene's. She serves as a sort of guardian angel for Irena, guiding her through the treachery of the Swiss aristocracy. (During various conversational sessions in which they ply themselves with hard liquor) One of the big wigs from a Swiss television company also attempts to disillusion Irena (after he climbs out of bed with her). She tells him of her friends who will help her to become a Swiss citizen and he assures her they have no such intentions.

Yet Irena remains determined to get her prize, even when she's blackmailed for it by the lawyer and her employer, who compel her to eavesdrop on her clients so they can find out if any of them have anything to do with a recent money-laundering scandal involving an Italian criminal. When the lawyer tells her that some of her clients could be a threat to Swiss security, she retorts that they're Swiss also and he replies with one of the most humorous lines in the film, "Every Schweitzer is a threat to Switzerland.” The maid helps her through this, however, by talking her out of her moral aversion to lying. When Irena tells the lawyer that the Italian criminal is in the hunting lodge of a certain client, he turns out to be there, in fact.

When some of the involved officials, (one of them says himself, "Money is money, wherever it comes from." Apparently one of the director’s pet peeves among the attitudes of the Swiss banks and government) who are, probably, also her clients, hear about it, she receives a notice that she's to leave the country within fourteen days. Naturally she's distressed and resolves to marry the general right away, until the maid informs her that he's already married. In despair, she wanders to the general's house, guzzling the favorite hard liquor of the maid and swallowing a bottle of pills. But the general is out visiting his nursing-home bound wife. She clutches his hat in desperation and swallows the last of the pills when she notices a phone number written inside it. She calls it and says the watchwords that she's heard the general repeat so many times before passing out.

The coup system, though rusty, works perfectly and the top officials in the Swiss government, along with the banking heads and the media leaders are all assassinated, each by a different member of the general's "Cobras". (The general himself, thinking someone else set the call in motion when he wasn't home runs out to shoot his target before realizing that he didn't change the blanks. Thus the target assassinates him instead, pulling a loaded pistol out of a drawer and finishing the general before that bewildered "oh shit, forgot the bullets!" look leaves his face. Among the massive humor of these scenes is also a subtle message that the top seats in any government or market aren't as immovable as they might seem.

Schmid completes his hilarious mockery of the Swiss power structure with the most outrageous touch. When the cobras storm (well, hobble. One of them in a wheelchair even) into the general's house to find Irena there, alive and well, if a little bit hung over. (she had chosen ginseng for her suicide drug) As soon as they find out she put the call in motion, they inform her that Switzerland is under their control, secured for her. And so it cuts into the coronation scene as she becomes Königen der Schweiz, surpassing her greatest dreams by far, complete with humorous flags of the Swiss crest imposed on the image of a cobra.

Schmid sends a serious message with all this humor, one which sticks due to the fun of it all. He seems to contend that the puffed-up egos, corruption, and arrogance of the Swiss upper-strata could lead to serious consequences, though probably nothing so injuring to their pride as being replaced with a very confused auslander. Even with his strong criticism, you can see that Schmid has an obvious love for his land. Many of the shots illustrate the beauty of the Alps or other interesting and lovely aspects of Swiss land and culture. So every country or culture has its good things of which to be proud, but none is flawless.

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