‘Unrest’ Review: A fascinatingly minimalist chronicle of 19th-centuryanarchy

Cyril Schaublin’s second feature film is a masterpiece. It tells the story of the political passion that bubbled up under the surface in a small, quiet industrial town in late-19th-century Switzerland.

The town is nestled next to the Jura Mountains and houses a factory in which workers hand-assemble watches. They also adjust the tiny balance wheel, known as an uneasy (restlessness). This precision is what makes the Swiss so famous. The real riots are taking place around them, as the emerging anarchist movement grips the factory and the entire community. It pits the workers, almost all women, against the powerful, who control everything like clockwork and reduce everyone to cogs in the capitalist machine.


The Bottom Line is Subtle and meticulous, but intriguing.

  • Venue: New York Film Festival (main panel)
  • Pour: Clara Gostynski, Alexei Evstratov, Monike Stadler, Helio Thiemard, Alice-Marie Humbert
  • Director, Screenwriter: Cyril Schaublin

Sometimes, the film focuses on Josephine (Clara Gostynski), a young clock fitter from Josephine (Alexei Evstratov). But their story is just one part of a bigger one that shows western Europe at the brink of transformation. The seeds were planted for the labor- and feminist movements that would explode over the next century.

Restlessness It’s both a political and historical film. It’s discreet and very Swiss without the fiery rhetoric found in classic leftist dramas such as Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900, or Warren Beatty’s Red. Schaublin is more inspired by Robert Bresson. He cast non-professional actors and keeps passions under control while hinting at a romance between Pyotr (and Josephine). He is also influenced by French directors Jean-Marie Straub, and Daniele Huillet. They used Brechtian distancing techniques, where characters read their lines rather than reciting them, to communicate their socialist stories.

Schaublin’s detailed historical recreations and sharp observations about science, manufacturing, and technology, and their impact on workers and owners, are what keep the drama from ever really igniting. Josephine and her watchmakers are on the clock every day at the factory. Every gesture is also measured to the second in an effort to improve industrial efficiency, which would later be called Fordism. The clock is actually the city itself, which has several clocks with different time signatures. A telegraph message gives the exact hour.

Anarchists are trying to figure out how people fit into this system. They have created a form of collective action and interdependence that allows workers to get universal rights, while still maintaining a sense of community. Pyotr, the first visitor to the factory’s door as a mapmaker, is in fact a key ambassador of the Russian anarchist movements – he wrote many tracts and books over a period of decades – and the map that he draws is not an ordinary one but an accurate map showing the anarchy within the region.

Schaublin illustrates how the ruling class is trying to preserve the status quo in Switzerland and the city. The anarchists attempt to use the capitalists’ tools against them. They use telegrams and photos to spread the word. However, managers and elected officials – all men – use the more friendly local police forces and other means to stop the revolution.

Much of the political turmoil is invisible or unspoken. There aren’t any big battles or restlessness. No laborers beat their swords against the power. The political upheavals are meticulously planned for the future, much like the clocks Josephine and other women assemble in the factory. They use microscopic pins to make the mechanism function.

Schaublin’s filmmaking style is meticulous as his storytelling. Silvan Hillmann, the cinematographer, frames characters off-center or in the background. This makes it difficult to identify the true protagonists. Similar techniques were used by Schaublin in his 2017 debut, The ones who are good which deals with contemporary malaise in a Switzerland full of criminally neglected seniors and suffocating call centers. It conveys the isolation of modern life in an eerie way.

Restlessness is visually similar to the other film, but it’s certainly more optimistic. It takes place in the past which offers hope for a better future and possibly a love story. She is more interested in politics’ cockiness than the portrayal of everyday politics – and how microaggressions one suffers at work can slowly turn into rebellion. The film, like Josephine’s photographs, is a collection of well-executed group portraits that capture a moment in the midst of the changing winds.

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