Whatever the question, violence is the answer in Simon Jaquemet’s confrontational feature debut. Matteo (Benjamin Lutzke, 16 at the time of shooting and like the rest of the cast an unprofessional plucked from the streets) is uplifted from his dysfunctional urban home and dispatched to the Swiss countryside for a period of “rehabilitation,” When he’s roughly chained at the neck and caged in an outdoor kennel by his young co-residents, (Ella Rumpf, Sascha Gisler, John Leuppi) Jaquemet seems to be setting himself up for a film more perverse and sadistic than the one that follows.
Instead, the film takes a laudable about turn. Almost imperceptibly, after a series of tasks (milking, boxing and high-wire walking) that serve to reinforce his latent masculinity, Matteo moves from the status of prisoner to peer, and forges a new family - one still founded around blood, but not their own. This band of frustrated youths turn violently against the world that has wronged them with anarchic, hedonistic abandon in Jaquemet’s chilling revision of the ‘coming of age’ framework.
Across a number of ambitious, if not always entirely effective sequences, the unifying principle is violence, Jaquemet is careful to not indicate too overtly where this violence comes from. The context he establishes for Matteo in his intro, and a scene where one character therapeutically lays ruin to her old home, suggests that the violent tendencies come from external pressures. But there is plenty in the film to suggest that firstly, violence is a state present in us all, and also that there is an implicit seductiveness to it, which when awakened is impossible to suppress.
The gleeful abandon with which the cast of Chrieg smash precious artworks and set fire to a Mercedes suggests a pleasure in destruction from both character and actor, something emphasised by Lorenz Merz’ functional handheld photography that follows the characters mostly in circling facial closeup. Indeed in a lacklustre script that Jacquemet wrote himself, more than a few scenes seem to be present largely for the fun of shooting them
Jaquemet brings his narratively disparate scenes together through the suggestion that a father-son sexual battle is the core of Matteo’s anger, the boys most explosive outbreak coming out of his father’s seizing of a love interest. Indeed, Chrieg translates as ‘war’, and attempting to identify what sort of war (class? identity? state? gender?) Jaquemet is gunning for, is a rewarding if elusive endeavour in this unfocused but bold debut. Ultimately, his main message seems to be that violence is not only inevitable, but also inherently seductive. Troublingly, in Chrieg, the lesson learnt is that it also goes unpunished.
Chrieg played in the New Directors section at the 62nd San Sebastian International Film Festival. This review was original posted in NISI MASA's San Sebastian Nisimazine.