Heidi is a timeless story of a little girl living in the Alps with her grandfather Alm and her shepherd friend Peter. Written by Johanna Spyri, it is the first and last story I read whose setting is Switzerland. The novel gave me good mental image and some generalizations about the country that by the time I reached high school and we started discussing the events in World War II and how Switzerland has remained neutral, I was able to at least have an understanding for this distinctively Swiss temperament.
But this has caused me to have a lot of biases that are hard to let go of. Switzerland has remained a country locked in the past, unable to cross and see what is on the other side of the towering Alpine border. All Swiss kids are like Heidi and Peter, adventurous but docile, imaginative but stuck in the boredom of the ordinary.
Until Mein name is Eugen (Rascals on the Road), a film based on a well-known 1955 children’s book by Swiss author Klaus Schädelin in that tells the story of four little rascals through the eyes of 12-year-old Eugen. Eugen and his three friends are determined to follow in mysterious Fritz Bühler’s footsteps, “the biggest rascal of all time”. Their quest for a long-hidden treasure and Fritz Bühler takes them from their hometown of charming Berne to the mountains and to Zurich.
This black and white film (directed by Michael Steiner) does not stop from giving funny slapstick and witty lines from start to finish. Eugen, the narrator Wrigley, Bäschteli, and Eduard went from one adventure to another misadventure before finally meeting Fritzli Bühler. Although at some point it starts to have an air of Hollywood, seen in Home Alone series and Little Rascals, the film is still able to retain its Swiss character I sensed in the novel by Spyri: appreciation for simplicity, and the lack of the intruding plot-centered narrative with so little focus on the characterization. For in this film, viewers are able to comprehend the characters because we were given a peek of the lives lived by each of the children.
But to a certain point, one will have a feel that it matters so little where a child comes from or where he grows up because only two things matter, his being a child and his thirst for adventure, for something new, for friendship, for a simple reason to live.
If there is one film that can drastically alter one’s perception of an entire country. This one does.
This film is one of the 12 films being screened in the 12th Cine Europa at Shangri-la Mall, Mandaluyong City.