Beyond These Mountains: Film Review

Rotterdam International Film Festival
Micro-budget Swiss drama of female friendship reveals unexpected depths.

The micro-budget drama, from promising new Swiss filmmaker Michael Krummenacher and screened at Rotterdam, is a surprisingly accomplished feature made by a director who's still in the midst of his film-school studies.

ROTTERDAM — Beyond These Mountains (Hinter diesen Bergen) announces a promising new filmmaker from Switzerland in 27-year-old director/co-writer Michael Krummenacher. Where one has become accustomed to seeing skilled film-school graduation projects, it's much more unusual to find such an accomplished feature made by a director who's still in the midst of his studies.

Reportedly shot for €20,000 over less than three weeks -- in Krummenacher's hometown of Schwyz -- the picture transcends its bland digital-video look by revealing a strong visual sense along with a script that balances humor and psychological investigation. World premiering here to minimal fanfare, the film is definitely worth seeking out by festivals interested in emerging talents.

Harking back to Eric Zoncka's enduringly influential Dream Life of Angels as well as Jacques Rivette's fondness for two female leads, Krummenacher builds a portrait of a friendship between young women that's sustaining but also perhaps damaging to both parties.

Brunette Heidi (Vera Bommer) and blonde Milena (Lucy Wirth) are both unsatisfied with the comfortable tedium of life in their very middle-class town, yet lack the momentum to move away. Instead they seek an apartment together with Heidi taking a job in a shoe store while the more academic Milena ponders her future.

The capricious duo have flirtatious, only semi-serious relationships with men, but spend more time concocting childish games for their mutual amusement. But when Heidi shows signs of losing her grip on reality, Milena has to decide whether to rescue her friend from the abyss — or follow her into it. 

Not a great deal happens in Beyond These Mountains, but small-scale events gradually accumulate to create a picture of the protagonists' slightly off-kilter world view. Krummenacher's eye for composition is unfussy but quietly impressive, especially when it comes to depth-of-field -- arranging objects, people and scenery in receding positions within the frame. 

The dramatic Swiss landscape is ideal for such a technique, with the Alps providing a striking panorama that for these troubled young characters creates its own kind of claustrophobia into which the protagonists move during the chilly, haunting finale.

One particularly praiseworthy behind-the-scenes contributor is composer Björn Magnusson, whose English-language guitar-pop song "I Draw A Line" is deployed on a couple of occasions to mood-enhancing effect.

Venue: Rotterdam International Film Festival (Bright Future).
Production companies: Passanten Filmproduktion (in co-production with University of Television & Film, Munich)
Cast: Vera Bommer, Lucy Wirth, Andreas Matti, Stefan Camenzind, Mario Fuchs, Maria Krummenacher-Frank
Director: Michael Krummernacher
Screenwriters: Michael Krummenacher, Silvia Wolkan
Producers: Michael Krummenacher, Peter Baranowski, Judith Fülle.
Director of photography: Jakob Wiessner
Music: Björn Magnusson
Editor: Stine Sonne Munch
Sales: Passanten, Schwyz, Switzerland
No rating, 75 minutes