‘With the Wind’ (‘Le vent tourne’): Film Review | Locarno 2018

French actress Melanie Thierry (‘The Princess of Montpensier’) headlines ‘With the Wind,’ the French-language feature debut from Swiss director Bettina Oberli (‘Late Bloomers’).

Looking for a greater degree of self-sufficiency, an ecologically minded Swiss couple decides to have a wind turbine installed on their remote farm in With the Wind (Le vent tourne). But instead of giving them more independence, the rugged technician staying on their farm during the installation of the machinery destabilizes in particular the female half of the hard-working and rather solitary couple. Though not quite a Madame Bovary with windmills, this tale from writer-director Bettina Oberli is told from the viewpoint of the farmwoman whose tranquil existence is rocked to its core by the arrival of an outsider. 

The story beats are largely familiar, but a fearless performance from French actress Melanie Thierry (The Princess of Montpensier) gives the material a raw power and urgency that will help lift With the Wind above the fray. The handsomely produced feature, which also showcases the beautiful Jura landscapes, premiered on Locarno’s Piazza Grande, where 8,000 people collectively swooned. This suggests the film could work in art houses not afraid of contemporary romantic material. 

The Bottom Line

Stormy weather.

While she has directed Swiss-German crowd-pleasers such as Late Bloomers and Lovely Louise, this is Oberli’s first feature-length work in French, one of the three other official languages of Switzerland. This allows her to tap into a whole new pool of actors, with Oberli casting Thierry as Pauline, a hard-working Swiss dairy farmer from the mountainous Jura region, on the Swiss-French border. 

Pauline has been together with her partner, Alex (Stranger by the Lake’s Pierre Deladonchamps, another French actor), for 15 years, and together they look after the farm in the mountains that has been in the family of Pauline and her sister, Mara (Swiss actress Audrey Cavelius), for years. Mara doesn’t live on the farm, however, and her position as a vet is looked down upon, especially by Alex, who sees her as part of the diseased system that’s polluting the world, something Alex and Pauline try to counter by becoming increasingly self-sufficient.

Their do-gooder bona fides are further established by them taking in a teenager from the Chernobyl area, Galina (Anastasia Shevtsova, the titular protagonist from Polina), who has come to spend the summer because the mountain air will benefit her health, and the couple’s decision to have a wind turbine installed, so they won’t be dependent on electricity from the outside. But the arrival of Galina and of Samuel (Portuguese actor Nuno Lopes, the lead from Saint George), the foreign technician who will supervise the erection and installation of the turbine, throw the duo’s tranquil mountain idyll for a loop — or rather expose it for what it really is. 

The Ukrainian girl, who speaks a little English and practically no French, is initially bored out of her mind amid the cows and the pasturelands. And Pauline can’t help but be obsessed by the enigmatic and burly Samuel. The latter also speaks a little Russian — a great touch from Oberli and fellow screenwriter Antoine Jaccoud (Ursula Meier’s regular co-scribe) — creating a link between the two outsiders in Pauline’s mind. (Girlhood‘s Celine Sciama and Thomas Ritter, who wrote a few episodes of the series Private Banking, which Oberli directed, also provided input on the screenplay.)

The film always stays close to Pauline’s point-of-view, and the general direction of this story of secret and unexpected desires is never really surprising. But there are a few captivating set pieces along the way, including a scene set in thick mist, which has a breathtaking payoff much later when the fog has lifted. The idea to have Galina function as Pauline’s uncensored conscience — or perhaps an outspoken version of her younger, less settled self — is also inspired, even if the screenplay denies the Ukrainian girl much of a personality beyond that specific role. A key scene involving vandalism is blunt but very effective as it suggests how violent some of the feelings are for the protagonists. 

In the past, Thierry has frequently played characters who have ranged from semi-passive to almost doll-like, but here she’s a revelation as the exact opposite of that. Her Pauline is someone who is used to hard work and who’s not afraid to get dirty. She drags huge pine branches across the fields as if they weigh nothing, for example, and this let’s-get-this-done and we’re-not-afraid-of-a-mess attitude then keeps percolating just beneath the surface in the film’s quieter scenes. It’s a performance that’s at once unrefined and very specific; as a viewer, you are right in the decision-making process with her. The men around her are seen strictly from her viewpoint, with Deladonchamps a lovable and reliable bore and Lopes an unfathomable but alluring man of mystery and sexual energy; it isn’t too hard to see how the winds might shift given the option to choose between the two. 

Beyond showcasing the gorgeous mountain landscapes, Oberli’s regular cinematographer, Stephane Kuthy, also has a good eye for composition, such as in a striking medium shot of Pauline walking alongside a country road, which disappears into the center of the shot. She’s high on life after a night of lovemaking, but what she can’t yet see are the lights of the emergency services coming up behind her, a sight that helps advance the story on both a narrative and a thematic level. There’s a similarly significant, equally long shot later in the film, when Pauline returns to the farm at night and finds things have gone completely out of control. The sustained sequence is technically impressive but thankfully doesn’t draw attention to itself; instead it highlights Pauline’s sense of stumbling around in a daze as if through a fog.

The score by former death-metal musician Arnaud Rebotini is frequently propulsive, which not only helps avoid the trap of melodrama but which more generally feels appropriate for a story about stormy feelings and windmills. 

Production companies: Rita Productions, Silex Films, Versus Production
Cast: Melanie Thierry, Pierre Deladonchamps, Nuno Lopes, Anastasia Shevtsova, Audrey Cavelius
Director: Bettina Oberli
Screenplay: Bettina Oberli, Antoine Jaccoud
Producers: Pauline Gygax, Max Karli, Priscilla Bertin, Judith Nora, Jacques-Henri Bronckart, Olivier Bronckart
Director of photography: Stephane Kuthy 
Production designer: Su Erdt
Editor: Pauline Gaillard
Music: Arnaud Rebotini
Casting: Sarah Teper
Venue: Locarno International Film Festival (Piazza Grande)

Sales: Be for Films

In French, English, Russian
86 minutes