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SOLOTHURN 2021

Review: LUX

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- The first film by the Swiss duo of Raphaël Dubach and Mateo Ybarra sheds light on the army's paradoxes between virile homologation and the need for escape

Review: LUX

In competition in the First Feature section at the 2022 Solothurn Film Festival, which brings together the best of Swiss cinema in the making, the first film by the young Swiss filmmaking duo of Raphaël Dubach and Mateo Ybarra, LUX, tells us the behind-the-scenes story of a gigantic, fictitious anti-terrorist operation that mobilised no less than 1,500 soldiers, including many young people who had just returned from recruit school.

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In order to fully grasp the significance of a film like LUX, it is necessary to make a brief parenthesis (present at the beginning of the film through a few brief but incisive clarifications) on what the army represents in Switzerland, and more specifically the compulsory recruit school for every male of age and optional for females. Even if such a compulsory requirement in a country reputed for its neutrality seems rather strange, what the army represents for the citizens of Switzerland goes far beyond the threat of armed conflict. The recruit school, where it all begins, and the regular mobilisations that follow, aspire to ensure the protection and regulation of the territory rather than, of course, to devise belligerent military manoeuvres. The army then becomes a gigantic machine that creates order and virility, forging the spirit and body of every male and the few females (here the binary discourse is almost obligatory) ready to defend their motherland. It is in this defensive context tinged with heroic virility that the LUX operation must be situated.

The simulation which requires the immediate mobilisation of the army for ten days and which, like the film itself, is codenamed LUX, took place in 2019 in response to a possible (albeit remote) attack by an anti-capitalist terrorist group (the Global Liberation Front) of Geneva and its airport. What LUX stages is the unfolding of an oversized game whose pawns are real people.

For their first self-produced film (winner in 2020 of the SRG SSR Award in the Swiss section of the Locarno Film Festival's The Films After Tomorrow competition - see news - and presented in world premiere at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival 2021), Mateo Ybarra and Raphaël Dubach did not choose an easy theme, and this for one simple reason: the army, with its often incomprehensible rules and its delusions of grandeur, is certainly not the most exciting thing to portray on the big screen. And yet, thanks to the formal richness of their images, which manage to capture the unexpected, the small but significant deviations from a norm that seems to stifle everything, and a subtle and biting irony, the two directors manage to turn banality into poetry. Thanks to the banally comical comments whispered between fellow soldiers during a martial exercise, the close-ups of faces more distracted than illuminated by patriotic pride and the hypnotic electronic music reminiscent of typical science fiction films, the documentary is transformed into a comedy about life itself, between individual freedom and homologation.

If the gigantic LUX operation aims to "give credibility to the military apparatus," the filmmakers' careful and mischievous gaze sometimes seems to go in the opposite direction. The pink walls that ironically form the backdrop to the first images of the film, as well as the numerous dead moments in which the recruits have to kill time by peeking at their mobile phones or instinctively catching a fly on a wall, show us that poetry and irony can be found in the most unthinkable places, giving colour to even the greyest of realities. LUX is an apparently discreet film that, like Switzerland itself, hides some real and unexpected gems in its depths.

LUX is produced and distributed internationally by Jeunes Sauvages (the directors’ own production company).

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(Translated from Italian)

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