In spirit, “Unrest” is an observational film with Schäublin’s camera watching revolutionary ideas exchanged in whispers and polite conversations. Set in the Swiss Jura mountains in the late 1800s, the film focuses on the experiences of two main characters: Josephine (Clara Gostynski), a Swiss watch factory worker, and Pyotr Kropotkin (Alexei Evstratov), a Russian geographer inspired by the growing anarchist movement in the region. Together, they witness the insanity of how some factory owners treat their employees. They are shortchanged health insurance, micromanaged in the second in the name of productivity, and showing a few minutes late costs an hour’s worth of wages. Failure to pay municipal taxes could disenfranchise men of voting age, bar them from community places, or land struggling men in prison. They are involved in many outrages that weaken and demoralize the locals.
In contrast, there is a grassroots movement of workers helping other workers, egalitarian-minded people who vote to send aid abroad and raise funds for other communities. Their sense of duty goes beyond their backyard, which goes beyond what the local upper crust has to say when it hurts to line their pockets. In the end, history answers the question that Pyotr’s cousin asks at the beginning of the film, “Which will win? Anarchism or nationalism?” but the film argues that this is a question worth revisiting.
While philosophically engaging, Schäublin’s “Chaos” is so gentle that our protagonists are merely witnesses to what is happening around them. They are rarely the cause of any action, which makes for a very stiff period picture. Even the couple’s relationship—I hesitate to call it a romance—felt calm. Although the Valley of St. Imier is described as “the capital of the international anarchist rotation circle,” the action is overcome, often ideas are exchanged in conversation and sometimes there are disputes settled by orderly vote. Sometimes, the discussions are too simplistic, especially given the radical roots of the split from the mainstream socialist party for its own anti-authoritarian values embedded in conformist politics. They fought against the seeds of nationalism that, generations later, would lead Europe into a series of Great Wars. “Unrest” is too mild for this kind of clash of ideas.