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Strangers | Lorenz Suter

[…] «Stranger» celebrates the ambiguity of feelings and meanings, not of reality; hence it celebrates the fundamental plurality of being human, a trait which cannot but go together with its fundamental solitude.

[…] Hesitation becomes sensuality: that seems to be an inspiring motto for Lorenz Suter, who chooses his images carefully, avoiding artificial lights, and creating a particular urban tonality that approaches a glamorous black-and-white.

[…] For «Strangers», even if one could easily relate to the genre of the psychological thriller, Suter deliberately employs the characteristics of the classic film noir, yet he deprives it of its essence, the crime.

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A man called Tamás, and a woman, Norika. Actually, it’s Tamás, Norika and her younger sister Annika. During the unfolding of the intricate plot, a triangle between them emerges, but we are far removed from the classical topos of so many cinematic love affairs. The contours of their relationships are blurred and unclear – even if Annika plays the more clichéd role of the man-eater. Tamás is a lonely ghost-writer, a man who is sparing with his words, who lives in Zurich but neither speaks, nor wants to speak, German. Yet, it is through his words that the story is conveyed retrospectively to us. From Tamás’ perspective, which is simultaneously both naïve and cynical, any relationship with another appears as an adventure that simply happens, unplanned, as an incident that disturbs the tranquillity of the individual: Tamás just happens to be half of a couple, and just happens to be in a triangle.

Stranger’s storytelling begins within a police station. Tamás has been asked to fill in a police report, as Annika has implicated him for the mysterious disappearance of her older sister. But his own perspective will be increasingly complicated by the differing perspectives of Annika and Norika; in fact the whole film is a puzzle of various versions of unverified “facts”. The interesting thing is that director Lorenz Suter does not want us to lose touch with reality: the many perspectives and the many versions don’t make us doubt the existence of one truth, for the spectator’s perspective is never openly contradicted, even if we are often pushed to question the likelihood of the “facts”. Ultimately the story is consistent, reinforcing the ambiguous different interpretations of those facts; thus emphasising the distances between the differing perceptions of the individuals.

Stranger celebrates the ambiguity of feelings and meanings, not of reality; hence it celebrates the fundamental plurality of being human, a trait which cannot but go together with its fundamental solitude. «We are all sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skin, for life»: this quote by Terrence Williams opens the film, a film during which we will learn to feel a solitude that is not the same as loneliness, and thus to gain an understanding of the positive aspects of even difficult relationships. What would be common ground between two individuals is not necessarily a sufficient reason for them to meet. And meeting someone does not necessarily mean recognizing in them something that we have in common; it can equally mean discovering something new, or different, or “strange” that interests us. This creates a cloud of uncertainty that is simply the opportunity for a true encounter between different people.

The theme of “ambiguity as a force” is certainly emphasised by a refined dramaturgy that is reinforced by the artful/skilled editing (Bigna Tomschin). When the exact distance between two people is unclear – as is also the case of the ambiguous relationship between the two sisters – it then becomes the object of experience, it is intuited. Hesitation becomes sensuality: that seems to be an inspiring motto for Lorenz Suter, who chooses his images carefully, avoiding artificial lights, and creating a particular urban tonality that approaches a glamorous black-and-white (where Zurich is both recognizable and transcended at the same time). The soundscape focuses on depicting Tamás’ interiority, stressing his separation from the outside world and from other persons, a distance that is however tentatively explored. Positive ambiguity comes also from the brilliant performances of the actors, among which Jeanne Devos is particularly impressive, in her portrayal of the most ambiguous of the three main figures.

Unclear, open contours apply equally to the cinema genres. For Strangers, even if one could easily relate to the genre of the psychological thriller, Suter deliberately employs the characteristics of the classic film noir, yet he deprives it of its essence, the crime. There is no actual crime in this film, but it all takes places as though a crime has been committed (or is about to be committed). If this narrative configuration creates unresolved suspense and a significant dramaturgic impulse to the movie, then the very absence of a crime encourages us to consider it on a deeper existential level. Tamás’ “crime” is his resistance to any compromise towards conventional relationships; Norika’s “crime” is her need to break Tamás’ solitude without sacrificing up her own independence, and Annika’s “crime” is her lying to and manipulation of the others, thereby preventing any genuine relationships within this forced triangle. Considered as such, Strangers becomes a phenomenological study of the crimes against loneliness and companionship, and at the same time a plea for both solitude and social interactions. On one precise condition: that we continue as wonderful strangers, each to the other.

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore | Audio/Video: Guido Henseler

First published: April 10, 2018

Strangers | Film | Lorenz Suter | CH 2017 | 83’ | Solothurner Filmtage 2018

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