One advantage of working outside a major film industry, one that writer-director Fredi M. Murer definitely capitalizes on in "Alpine Fire" (Beverly Center Cineplex), is that the lack of a strong studio system often forces you to point your cameras at your own landscapes and construct stories around your own people.
In this moody and exceptional Swiss film--one whose raw subject is counterbalanced by excellent scenes and performances--the landscape is one of the stars. These Alpine vistas are both spectacular and mundane. There's a breathtakingly picturesque quality to the views of the snow-mantled mountains and a believably dirty, everyday grip to the farmland close-ups: scrappy pigsties, windy fields, weathered wood. These are the same Swiss mountain slopes we often starrily envision in postcard storybook fantasies as a backdrop for pigtailed Heidis, yodeling skiers and quaint octogenarians with snowy beards. Yet what we see here, like the rural India of Satyajit Ray or the Provence of Marcel Pagnol, is rendered with stimulating detail--glowingly real, at times even uncomfortably so.
Murer sets his film, based on his own original novel, on these distant Alpine slopes, among families so isolated they have to visit each other by ski lifts. That isolation becomes the drive shaft of the drama. The family we see here--the parents, a son and daughter--become enmeshed in tragedy precisely because of their lack of contact with the outside world. Sealed off from urban civilization, even from the neighbors and relatives who live near them, they are forced into a series of increasingly bizarre clashes and interconnections. The son (Thomas Nock), a 15-year-old deaf-mute, overprotected by the entire family, becomes unmanageable at puberty. He provokes his father (Rolf Illig) to rage, then escapes onto the mountainside, sublimating his sexuality in fairy-tale rock-pinnacle constructions. Eventually, his older sister, Belli (Johanna Lier)--also his major protector and only teacher--seeks him out, igniting a fuse that races darkly toward incest, violence and possible death.