aka. E nachtlang Füürland
Directors: Clemens Klopfenstein and Remo Legnazzi
Screenplay: Alex Gfeller, Clemens Klopfenstein and Remo Legnazzi
Cast: Max Rüdlinger as Max Gfeller, Christine Lauterburg as Chrige
Shot and set in Switzerland, Land of Fire All Night Long does touch upon a malaise, shot as we headed into the eighties and what happened to the political radicals after the sixties and seventies in the new era. One such figure is our lead Max Gfeller (Max Rüdlinger), formerly a political radical after the late sixties, explicitly the height of 1968, now having been a news reporter for radio broadcasts for a long time. He is not a good man in many ways, but he is, however, one stuck in a humdrum life and job. Around him is both the world, set in Bern, the "federal city" of Switzerland, of the establishment, where lords and politicians are meeting in a major event, preaching the word of peace and happiness for all, contrasted by our introduction to Max, wandering past a large scale peaceful protest movement. People who know him try to get his attention, suggesting he should report on this on his radio broadcast, or least see the graffiti and protest slogans marked across the city, but he has no interest.
Land of Fire All Night Long is a very obscure film, least in the sense that outside of its homeland of Switzerland, or beyond for those able to see it both at the 1982 and 2020 Locarno International Film Festival, few may know of this. Presented as a slow burn character piece, one night different for Max will force him to question how complacent he has become in a languid, drifting plot across one night in a snow covered Bern from bar to bar, to crowded living environment to even his place of employment. It is a compelling work, especially in mind that Max is not a likable character but a clear one you can still have a form of sympathy with in understanding his scenario. Disconnected from his past, he has drifted into a new place of walking back and forth from his radio station. Most of us are in the same boat, going from our day-to-day jobs, and this becomes pertinent decades later, whether you take on the radical left wing politics of his past or not, with the same sense of disconnecting oneself from taking action many of us may have, in favour of a day-to-day job with your head to the ground.
The irony is not lost as a Swiss film, Switzerland considered an idealised place to outsiders, that even in Bern here you see disconnect from the powerful elite to the ordinary people, that there are those still disenfranchised in this nation as well. Max's journey over one night, in bad times with a former lover he has just left, and meandering through concerts and bars, eventually on an aimless path that will push him along to other voices. One of a woman rightly complaining, though she does not work, of the tedium of housewives' lives, but also another woman who he gains a connection too, someone together they will fall in love with one another and also give him the necessary boot to change himself. He is stiff and hostile at times, especially in a sequence outside a garage in the snowy night, when a third passenger in the car is secretly carrying weed in large masses with him, but she starts to crack open his shell. Not a lot happens in the film in terms of actual plot, as he has an existential crisis, culminating in only one moment of great importance. Convinced by her to write a radio report to break from his current life - of melting icebergs causing police and politicians to flee the country, a fake news piece to fling his middle finger up at the establishment - and whether he will actually say it or not on-air.
Shot around its real locations, this also makes a compelling document of its environment at the era, almost timeless with a down-to-earth atmosphere of cramped apartments and grey, frankly dull radio recording studios. It possesses far more life, paradoxically, than the point of the film of Max's sterile life suggests, but the real concern is that he himself is trapped in his own vanity streaked in real sense of loss, an ego believing he has lost his passion as a defensive shield from participating, but also a sense, nearing middle age, Max still has lost his passion of political revolution for real too. The environments, lived in and vibrant even on the stark cold winter night outside, breathe as we wander them whilst he feels awkward the moment we first met him pass a large protest crowd. Another fascinating touch, the symbols of this film's ode to passion, is the Asphalt Blues Company, a real band effectively playing themselves, as a Swiss blues band whose take on American music is idiosyncratic, even odd at first, but possesses a vibrancy as they flee from the police or complain, in their group lived-in shack, of occupants always drinking all the coffee their members have to buy themselves. As Max wanders smoke filled bars and meets individuals like this, he himself is still disconnected from these people, in his frequent bar hopping, the film contrasting its handheld camerawork with its very naturalistic tone, all with a sense of a world grounded in realism and raw energy that drastically contrasts a protagonist who is incredibly distant from everything and everyone, even the aesthetic of the film around him.
The choice of whether he proves himself, whether to broadcast the fictional radio report or not, does show what kind of film this is, one which succeeds in an honest ending which feels neither contrived nor bleak for the sake of it. [Huge Spoiler Warning]: He does not do the stunt, and loses the one woman who may have been there for him, even put up with his hostile manner when she thought he could have become a hero to her.) It does not feel politically bleak however, merely melancholic, ultimately a man pinned and trapped in his position having a chance one night. The film suggests he could get another chance, and many more, all possibly with the option that he will never make the decision to save himself when he suddenly panics as he does here, or that he could grow. [Spoilers Ends]. It is a film, whatever your response to it is open, even if the only film of this tale ever made, that he will wander bars more and things may be different another day. Befittingly, for an already obscure film, the filmmakers returned for a sequel Land of Fire 2 (1992), whose synopsis involves female protestors at the Parliament building during Switzerland's 700th birthday, Max being brought in on the crossfire for a severer challenge to his lack of political beliefs. Land of Fire All Night Long by itself however works entirely, a fascinating and compelling film, whose languidness to its advantage gives it a mood, an easygoing personality, where the one real stake and plot point, one choice and how that turns out, does have a great impact.