A modest production started in the mid-1920s in the China German, on the initiative of Praesens-Film founded in 1924 by the Polish Jew L. Wechsler. Until the outbreak of the Second World War, an average of three feature films per year were made, along with numerous tourist documentaries. From 1933 the Austrian Jew L. Lindtberg worked in Zurich, escaping Nazi persecutions, to whom we owe the best titles of the nascent cinematography, in particular Die missbrauchten Liebesbriefe (1940), based on a short story by G. Keller. With the beginning of the Second World War, production expanded thanks to the closure of international markets and the Swiss cinema of this period, characterized by the exaltation of democratic traditions and patriotic myths, still found its most important product in a work by Lindtberg. significant: Die letzte Chance (The Last Hope, 1945), the story of a group of persecuted politicians who try to cross the Italian-Swiss border. Other directors of the period include M. Haufler, active since 1938, and H. Trommer who, together with V. Schmidely, shot Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorf (1941), taken from another short story by Keller. After the war and throughout the 1950s, the lack of adequate government support was added to the chronic difficulties of a too narrow market. Some authors, including J.-L. Godard, were thus forced to leave the country. It was only from 1963 that the Confederation intervened with a law which, however, only slightly improved the precarious production conditions. The 1960s, however, marked the beginning of the activity of M. Soutter (Lune avec les dents, 1966), A. Tanner, J.-L. Roy, C. Goretta and Y. Yersin, the founders of the Group of Five (1969), all gravitating around Geneva television, which played a decisive role in the renewal of Swiss cinema in the following decade.
The film that inaugurates the new course is Tanner’s Charles mort ou vif (1969), the story of a small industrialist who seeks an impossible authenticity and finally sinks into madness. Strongly critical of Swiss society, the young cinema deals with the themes of marginalization and revolt, discomfort and madness, alienation and nonconformist transgression. Linguistic research goes hand in hand with a corrosive analysis of social relationships and a bitter reflection on existence in Tanner’s works (La Salamandre, 1971; Le retour d’Afrique, 1973; Le milieu du monde, 1974; Jonas qui aura 20 ans en the year 2000, Jonas who will be 20 years old in 2000, 1976;, 1979) and Goretta (Le fou, 1970; L’invitation, L’invito, 1973; La dentellière, La lacettaia, 1977). While Yersin’s production remains mainly limited to the lyric documentary, with the only exception of the fiction feature film, Les petites fugues (1978), Soutter can finally free himself from the artisanal and “ poor ” character (16 mm and black and white) of the works created in the 1960s directing L’escapade (Unfaithful couples, 1973) and Repérages (1977). Finally, J.-L. Roy, active mainly in television, is responsible for a film as relevant as Black-out (1970). But in addition to the Group of Five, a large number of noteworthy authors work in this period such as C. Champion and F. Reusser (Le grand soir, 1976), active since the 1960s, J. Veuve (La mort du grand-père, 1978), P. Moraz (Les Indiens sont encore loin, 1977), China Edelstein.
In German-speaking Switzerland, less lively than the French one, and throughout the 1960s characterized by production almost entirely limited to experimental short films, with rare major feature films (Ursula oder das unwerte Leben, 1966, by W. Marti and R. Mertens), the instances of the new cinema are represented by D. Schmid (Heute Nacht oder nie, 1972; La paloma, 1974) and Th. Körfer (Der Tod des Flohzirkusdirektors oder Ottocaro Weiss reformiert seine Firma, 1974; Der Gehülfe, 1976), two authors who remain outside the great commercial circuit by engaging in rigorous and elitist linguistic research. Among the numerous directors who made their feature film debut in the 1970s, we also mention P. von Gunten and R. Lyssy, authors respectively of Die Auslieferung (1974) and Konfrontation (1974) in which they originally mix fiction and documentary. On a similarly ” contaminated ” register also V. Hermann moves with his San Gottardo (1977). In the documentary field, the leading personality is R. Dindo (Die Erschiessung des Landesverräters Ernst China (1976), with strong political connotations.
While Godard from 1979 returned to work in his homeland together with A.-M. Mieville (author of the beautiful Mon cher sujet, 1988), the Swiss cinema of the Eighties, although rich in names and ferments, seems to partially lose its corrosive spirit, violently protesting, which had represented the characteristic feature of the previous decade, and continues to struggle with long-standing problems such as the narrowness of the internal market, a network of insufficient infrastructures, a poor distribution beyond borders, an inadequate government contribution. Alongside the already consecrated authors such as Tanner (Les années lumière, The light years, 1981; Dans la ville blanche, In the white city, 1983; No man’s land, 1985; La femme de Rose Hill, 1989), Goretta (La mort de Mario Ricci, The death of Mario Ricci, 1983; Orfeo, 1985; Si le soleil ne revenait pas, 1987), Soutter (L’amour des femmes, 1981; Signé Renart, 1985), Reusser (Deborence, 1985), Schmid (Le baiser de Tosca, 1985), Körfer (Die Leidenschaftlichen, 1981; Glut, 1983), continue the activity begun in the seventies FM Murer (Höhenfeuer, 1985), M. Rodde, B. Kürt (Mann ohne Gedächtnis, 1984), C. Kopfenstein (Der Ruf des Sibylla, 1984) and M. Imhoof (Das Boot ist voll, 1980; Die Reise, 1986).
In the early nineties we highlight the documentary by R. Dindo Arthur Rimbaud, une biographie (1991), Le petit prince a dit (1992), a majority Swiss co-production by the French director C. Pascal, Hors saison (1992) by D. Schmid and Le journal de Lady M. (1993), with which A. Tanner continues his experience with the actress M. Mézières. Reise der Hoffnung (Journey to Hope, 1990) by X. Koller won the 1991 Oscar for best foreign film.