'Those Who Are Fine': Film Review

Stylishly alienating.

A Zurich call-center worker begins scamming elderly women in Cyril Schaublin's debut feature, receiving its North American premiere at New Directors/New Films.

The Switzerland tourist bureau will probably be less than thrilled by Cyril Schaublin's debut feature. Depicting the city of Zurich as a soulless place in which people are slaves to their financial data, Those Who Are Fine belies its cheerfully optimistic title. Elegantly composed and photographed, while almost claustrophobic in its subdued intensity, the film showcases its tyro filmmaker as an impressive cinematic stylist. It recently received its North American premiere courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Museum of Modern Art's New Directors/New Films festival.

The sparse narrative largely revolves around Alice (Sarah Stauffer), a worker at a call center for a company called Everywhere Switzerland that sells such products as internet service and health insurance. Alice's job, which involves much tedious cold-calling of prospective clients, provides her the perfect opportunity to perpetrate a criminal scam in her off-hours. It involves calling elderly women and, using the information she's garnered at her day job, pretending to be their granddaughter in desperate need of funds. (That such schemes preying on the elderly have become common in recent years only adds to the film's dispiriting resonance.)

Alice proves quite adept in her criminal enterprise and is soon making hefty deposits into her bank account. She displays no emotion while committing her frauds. Her impassive demeanor, even when meeting her victims face to face, becomes emblematic of her urban environment in which humanity seems an afterthought. Even the two police officers investigating the case are more interested in discussing their cellphone carriers' data services than the human toll of the crimes they're attempting to solve.

The Zurich depicted here seems devoid of air and light, a cold and dystopian society in which people go about their daily lives with robotic regularity. The modernistic architecture is similarly forbidding, providing a bleak environment that DP Silvan Hillman often shoots from high above to accentuate its large scale and lack of warmth. Policemen are shown stopping people to conduct random bag checks as a result of a bomb threat, but you get the feeling that it's simply a matter of routine. The dialogue more often than not consists of characters stiltedly exchanging details about bank accounts (how Swiss!), internet passwords, data plans and other technical minutiae. It's as if humanity had been rendered digital, reduced to a series of 0's and 1's. Even when people try to connect on a more intimate level, such as describing a film they've recently watched, they're unable to remember something as basic as its title.

To be sure, a little of this formalistic rigor goes a long way. Long before Those Who Are Fine reaches the conclusion of its brief running time, viewers may find themselves enervated by the life-sucking airlessness of the proceedings. Fortunately, the film provides enough doses of sly, subtle humor to make its medicine go down more smoothly.

Production: Seeland Filmproduktion, Amon Films, Film IGRF
Cast: Sarah Stauffer, Nikolai Bosshardt, Fidel Morf, Daniel Bachmann, Pascale Birchler, Tobias Spichtig, Li Taylor
Director/screenwriter: Cyril Schaublin
Producers: Lara Hacisalihzade, Cyril Schaublin, Silvan Hillmann
Director of photography: Silvan Hillmann
Editor: Cyril Schaublin
Composer: Linda Vogel
Costume designer: Irene Schweizer
Venue: New Directors/New Films

71 min.