Alpine Fire (Höhenfeuer) (1985)




ҧ:Awards:2 wins

Locarno International Film Festival
Year Result Award Category/Recipient(s)
1985 Won Golden Leopard Fredi M. Murer
Prize of the Ecumenical Jury Fredi M. Murer


A year on an Alpine farm: an older couple have two children, Belli (Johanna Lier), who wants to be a teacher, and 15-year-old Franzi (Thomas Nock), deaf, and although he works like a man, is very child-like. Belli teaches him. In his work, he can become frustrated, so when he throws an expensive mower over a cliff in a fit of pique, his father banishes him to the outskirts of the farm, where he uses pubescent energy to break rocks and build walls and cairns. Belli soon visits him and they begin sleeping together. By winter, the boy is back in the house and Belli is pregnant. But the parents will have to be told. A beautifully shot character study which was highly praised by critics.

It is impossible to speak of the central fact of the plot of this lovely film without spoiling it, but it is worth mentioning that it draws on (and asks to be compared to) Alpine folktales. The isolation of the family is an aspect of many Swiss and other montagnard tales; in this film, the tension between the lure of the modern world (it happens in 1984, after all) and the traditional ways of the mountain is constantly there, but somewhat subdued. The choice of the family to keep their deaf son at home (rather than institutionalizing him) leads to dramatic complications and precipitates the startling conclusion (not "inadequate," in my view, but definitely open to varied interpretation). That the son breaks rock--both as punishment and as a kind of affirmation of his connection to the natural world--while the mother continues prayers to the Blessed Virgin that seem never to have been answered, nor likely to be--also link the story to traditional folktales. Overall, it has that in common with John Sayles''s Secret of Roan Inish and perhaps Julie Dash''s Daughters of the Dust, but there is very little reverence for the past in this film, as contrasted with those others. It is definitely a film worth renting and viewing. Slow, yes, but intense.