Chris the Swiss (2018)


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Although unalike in style and purpose, this inventive blend of animation, interviews and live footage reminds me of Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog in its approach to subjective documentary. Filmmaker and animator Anja Kofmel creates a story around her cousin Christian Würtenberg, who was a journalist and sometime mercenary, killed under mysterious circumstances in Croatia in the early 90s.

Gorgeous and sometimes dramatically surreal black-and-white animation pulls us into the story and sets the scene of the young Kofmel finding out her cousin has died. We see film footage of Christian that builds an understanding of him as an idealistic and adventurous youth, joining a militia in Namibia and then heading to Zagreb when the Balkan war broke out. We are given a quick history of the Balkans, which helps us better understand Kofmel’s investigation into Chris’s last few months. She travels to France to interview Carlos the Jackal, who has his own theories about Chris, and talks to fellow journalists and fixers.

What emerges is the sad and brutal reality of war, perhaps common to all civil wars but somehow all the more tragic as neighbour fights neighbour, with self-interest, nationalism and religious zeal fuelling the fire. As another journalist says, “in war it is not a choice between good and bad, it is a choice between bad and very bad,” and this is clear as Kofmel uncovers small fragments of what was really going on.

The animation allows the terrible reality of what is being explained to be interpreted in a way that softens the blow whilst makes the meaning clear; spiders pour from a tank as Chris’s brigade goes house-to-house, ‘cleansing’ them of Serbs who have been unable to flee.

The death of a Swiss journalist, just one amongst so many, is a doorway to a greater understanding of the motivations behind war and it’s dreadful toll.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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