Everything seems to tick in Unrest, the latest effort from Zurich-born writer/director Cyril Schäublin. Unrest depicts the working lives of 19th century anarchist watchmakers in the Swiss mountains, laying bare the absurdities of the wage system. Schäublin follows workers as they navigate their working hours across four different time zones in one town—factory time, train station time, municipality time, and church time. It is a fitting theme after his 2017 debut, “Those Who Are Fine,” skewered the transactional and atomized nature of capitalist society. His new film blends the persistent whirring of factory machines with the heavy breathing of manual labor, an intentional confusion of internal and imposed rhythm.
Schäublin’s approach to filmmaking sheds light on often-ignored subjects. With Unrest, he shifts the camera ever so slightly to encompass the experiences of women in industrial spaces. But he is rarely didactic with his choices. After he weaves influences from theater, philosophy, history, and science into a complex tapestry, he then turns this broad canvas over to the audience to extract their own thoughts and interpretations. For Schäublin, this intentionality came as a matter of course.
In directing Unrest, Schäublin encouraged his cast of mostly non-actors to avoid any overly theatrical displays. Wide shots of anarchists fundraising outside of their place of work or gathering to exchange photos of famous revolutionaries encourage the viewer to find their own way through the frame, with naturalistic dialogue only mildly guiding our eyes toward the ostensible subject of any given scene. The result is almost voyeuristic, ironically giving the impression someone somehow managed to set up video cameras in the Jura mountains 150 years ago for our benefit. Yet despite this documentarian appearance, Unrest is simultaneously conscious of its inherent bias as a historical drama film. When Schäublin applies his open-ended aesthetic to this problem, he threads the needle on providing a more comprehensive picture of the time period than you might find in a history book without moralizing about his ideas.
Unrest is a tale of a struggle between nationalism and anarchism, bosses and workers. It comes at a time of global upheaval, reactionary trends, and labor resurgence. Ahead of its appearance TIFF ’22, RogerEbert.com sat down with Schäublin to discuss his mutual aid-influenced style of filmmaking, his affinity for a liberated audience experience, and the influence of the women in his family on the stories he chooses to tell.
Read the full interview with Cyril Schäublin on RogerEbert.com.