Review by Dan Skip Allen
I'm a big fan of foreign films because there are plenty of gems hiding within the sea of international cinema. One recent gem is Thunder, the Swiss submission for the Best International Feature Oscar at next year's Academy Awards. Writer-director Carmen Jaquier has a legitimate contender on her hands.
Elizabeth (Lilith Grasmug) is a seventeen-year-old girl who lives in a convent in turn of the century Switzerland. When she gets word that her sister has passed away, she is told she must return home to work for her parents on their farm. The death of her sister is a mysterious one, and she starts to ask around about what happened.
Jaquier has made a beautiful film with breathtaking views of the Swiss countryside and adjacent mountains overlooking the village in the film. The beautiful cinematography by Marine Atlan is perfect. In one sex scene, the wind blows the hair of the main girl as the sounds of crickets and water flowing lull in the background. I'm amazed at how all of this was captured so effortlessly. It's one of the best-looking films I've seen all year.
This story was a difficult one to watch unfold, despite how beautiful it was to look at. There is a dichotomy there that is fascinating to me. While the main girl is acclimating herself back into her old life, she starts to discover what is going on in this community. Three boys who are always around start to make themselves noticed by her, so she starts to explore their relationship with her sister. There was more going on than she thought while she was gone.
With this being about boys and girls, there is an underlying storyline of sexual repression. This town is in the middle of a world of ideals about Christianity and strong religious beliefs that make it hard for the boys and girls coming of age, as they get more mature, wanting to explore their sexual urges — even if they are told it’s wrong. With this being in such a location and time, you’d expect the boys to be crossing the line, but the elders are on top of things because of the last death.
There are two things in this film — besides the cinematography — that stood out to me quite a bit: the score, which had beautiful sounds that reflected the incredible surroundings, and a hidden notebook that provided narrative information for those watching the film. The director used the notebook in a way I hadn't seen before. The deceased sister narrated her own words in it and expressed her desires for sex and male companionship. This was her undoing, though.
Films about the past or foreign lands can be a bit hit or miss. Sometimes, things can get lost in translation. That isn’t the case here, though. There is a clear storyline based on various factors that let the viewer come to their own conclusions on the situation in the film. Writer-director Carmen Jaquier does a great job portraying this story on screen using a couple of different techniques, including extraordinary cinematography and score. Thunder is a well-done movie with difficult subject matter. This has a good chance for awards consideration.
Thunder hits theaters on October 25.