A couple from Zurich believes they did everything right. Then their adolescent children start disrupting the family system. Until the parents move out. An autofictional grotesque.
Step by step, Veronika and Michael Kamber-Gruber let their late-pubescent twin sons paralyze their lives. And neither carrot nor stick are of any use. Romeo and Anton can hardly get out of bed and rarely go to school; sexist and racist slogans are the order of the day. When their grandfather entices his grandsons to even more autonomy with an advance of 80,000 francs on their inheritance, the situation escalates completely. The unnerved parents flee the apartment with the youngest of their three sons and move into the studio they actually rented for Romeo. The couple believes they are saving their marriage and don’t realize that they are celebrating their own surrender.
A film by
Eric Bergkraut and
Michèle Binswanger and
The autofictional film Parents was initiated by writer Ruth Schweikert and her husband, filmmaker Eric Bergkraut. The whole family was on set: father Eric and the three sons in front of the camera and mother Ruth Schweikert behind it as co-director and co-writer. The film family was supplemented by Elisabeth Niederer in the role of mother Veronika. On the documentary level, the experts Remo Largo, Michèle Binswanger and Henri Guttmann fire up the controversies surrounding educational issues and place the project in a larger social context.
Parents was one of the three winners of the 2018 Fast Track award of the Zurich Film Fund, which envisions the supported films to be shot in the «quick and dirty» manner. A target Ruth Schweikert and Eric Bergkraut committed themselves to across the board: «Die etwas andere Homestory» (NZZ newspaper) was shot in just 15 days – with a minimal budget but a maximum of professional work and only three months of post-production. A mere twelve months passed from the idea to the local premiere as the opening film of the Fuori Concorso section in Locarno.
Eric Bergkraut, filmmaker, born 1957 in St. Maur, France, lives in Zurich and Paris. He first worked as an actor for theatre and film before he began to direct and produce documentary films. For his film Letter to Anna he won the Vaclav Havel Award. Parents is the first feature film he directed. His debut novel Paradies möcht ich nicht (I Don’t Want Paradise), an autobiographical family story, is published in 2019. He is the father of three sons.
I have only one professional diploma: as an actor. But I haven’t stood in front of a camera in 29 years. I was fascinated by the uniqueness of documentary film making, I loved improvisation, working between fixed structures and coincidences.
Directing my first feature film, I wanted to make sure that the characters were lived and not acted. I owed it to myself as a documentary filmmaker. In Parents, the audience should never feel like they are following a filmed script. It should appear as if a camera had followed an actual family for a few weeks. What sounds simple, was complex in its realization. Because at the end of the day we always wanted there to be a fiction, a feature film. read more
On set, the acting was given unconditional primacy; everything else was in its service. Cameraman Stéphane Kuthy, Ruth Schweikert and I had discussed the resolutions of all scenes in detail. They were mostly overlapping plan sequences, which we often broke up again during in the editing phase with Bigna Tomschin. We never worked in the logic of shot and counter-shot.
Ruth Schweikert and I were confident that our sons, who don’t play themselves, would be able to fill their roles. We prepared them for the task at hand during rehearsals, and sometimes they brought in their own ideas.
In front of the camera, I wanted to serve the story completely. Not to be a ‘good’ actor but to act the right way for the film. I enjoyed giving my character unpleasant traits and distancing myself far enough so I could laugh at him. It was exciting to walk in someone else’s shoes for a while and play a fictional character. It led me back to the primordial experience of playing.
Behind the camera, I often forgot that these were my sons facing me during the shoot. That was refreshing. At most, my brain fired a short signal: My son XY played that quite well! Or rather didn’t play – because all three of them handled the camera really well. So the film also helped expand our relationship; we could encounter each other
in a different way.
Ruth Schweikert, writer, born 1964 in Lörrrach, Germany, lives as a writer and lecturer in Zurich. She has published novels, essays and plays. The mother of five sons, she works with children and young people on various writing projects. She has received numerous awards for her work. Parents is her debut as a screenwriter.
The Big Fear, that’s what our film was supposed to be called in the beginning – or theatre play. Because at the time I envisioned the project to be a play about the fear some parents have of releasing their adult children into the world, and about the fear that many young people have of not really being fit for this world, not being strong and clever enough to survive in a global, performance-obsessed society. And also the question: How do young people react to the fact that their own existence contributes to climate change, that they themselves are not “part of the solution but part of the problem”, as one of our sons once put it? read more
I can’t remember who had the idea, or when, of making a film together as a family, albeit with fictional characters and a plot – with a bit of exuberance, a sense of adventure and a good portion of self-irony.
It was clear to me from the very beginning that I would help develop the script and be permanently present on the set but that I would not act myself. I wanted the film to be personal but not private, and I hoped that the topics it negotiated would point beyond us and our specific family challenges, thus saying something about the society we live in.
Soon the perspective that the film would take on was also clear: that of the parents – parents who have no idea what their children are up to, think and feel when they are alone or with their friends. And just like the parents don’t know any of this, the film doesn’t pretend to know either. Instead, it starts where we, two pretty ordinary Swiss parents, have a lot to say about the ups and downs of having kids.
World Rights: p.s. 72 productions, www.ps-72.com
Composition, piano, arrangement