The progressive and idealistic lawyer against the conservative criminal who does not see in her cause greater symbolism than that of her own amoral enjoyment. caged birds (until we’re dead or free) tells of the peculiar relationship between Barbara Hüg (Marie Marie Leuenberger) and Walter Stürm (Joel Basman) in the Switzerland of the 1980s, violated by the massive youth protests and the most radical airs that came from Germany, where the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group was in full swing. Stürm became famous for his eight jailbreaks, becoming an anti-system symbol, a pop idol of rebellion against a repressive police system and an ultra-conservative and macho society.
Facing, two very different conceptions of freedom: the idealism of the lawyer against the amorality of the criminal, for whom freedom means the absence of moral rules of any kind. “Down with the Alps, we want to see the Mediterranean!” Swiss youth shouted at those protests. According to the director, Oliver Rish (Zurich, 1971): “It was a very famous phrase in the 80s, I don’t really know where it came from, but it was a symbol of liberation. The Mediterranean meant that idea of freedom”. In times of ‘woke’ culture, Rihs believes that after thirty years of consumerism and frivolity, today’s youth are once again politicized although today there is a frontal rejection of violence that was not there before.
Ask. It shows an ultra-conservative Switzerland in the 1980s that looks more like something from the 1950s. Was it a very reactionary country?
Answer. In Switzerland there wasn’t a hippie revolution in 1968 like in other countries, it came a little later, in the 1980s. It’s something that arises from a youth’s need for freedom. The government was very repressive and it was the time of protests with naked people to fight for the rights of young people. This ended up overlapping with drug use, which was very strong, especially in Zurich, and generated a very violent response from the police. It was a very tough time there was an atmosphere of great aggressiveness. At the same time, it was a time when many social changes took place. Zurich today is a very liberal city as a result of all that. Switzerland in general has changed extremely in the last twenty or thirty years. Women have only been able to vote since the 1970s. We are talking about a country where there was democracy and it was normal for women not to vote. The police of that time were not very far from the Stasi of the communist countries.
P. Can a criminal be an anti-system symbol?
R. Stürm was a guy who took his criminal career very seriously, he didn’t drink alcohol or lose control, he was drinking Coca-Cola all day. And in his way of thinking he was extremely conservative. The hippies and the anti-establishment made it a symbol, in a kind of Che Guevara, but he never had anything to do with them in his way of thinking. He was a guy with bourgeois ambitions. In the end, his constant escapes from jail also made him popular with the wealthy classes because there is something fantastic about all his adventures. He was never a rebel but at the same time he was very smart. He knew that this glorification by young people, the demonstrations in his favor when they put him in an isolation cell, etc. they benefited him. He was very manipulative and knew how to play with the media, he used his popularity to get better conditions in prison, for example.
P. Why does a woman with so many intellectual and moral virtues like that lawyer fall in love with a guy like that?
R. I suppose for the same reason that we occasionally accelerate the car and drive at high speed. There is a need to feel the “thrill” of life playing with risk. We have all committed reckless acts to feel alive. There is a feeling of romance in falling in love with a character like that. At the same time, she is a woman with many physical problems, for her the body is her prison and he is always fighting to get out of jail. I think that connection between two people who feel imprisoned for different reasons is what interested me in this story. The question of freedom goes beyond politics. I show how difficult the concept itself is. As it is said at the end, even suicide can be a sign of freedom. When we talk about this topic it is important to let go of moral conventions and ideology. What I try to show is that complexity with his different visions, although in the end I think he was a sociopath.
P. Do Greta Thunberg’s activists resemble the radicals of those years?
R. I think we are going back to more politicized times, we see in the youth that they are progressive again. There is a movement that may be close to what was then, the last thirty years have been about entertainment and the rise of technology. We are now at a time when that awareness is awakening again, whether it is for environmental rights or new objectives. What has changed a lot is the acceptance of violence, it is very difficult for these movements to become violent. In portraying that generation I didn’t want to hide that some of those guys were total idiots, they were crazy, there’s no way to go back to that terror.
P. We are also currently seeing a rise of the extreme right. Is there a reaction to the social advances achieved in those years?
R. I think what happens is that everything has become more complicated. At that time, recognizing the enemy was easier than today. There was also not such a huge amount of fake news and today we have information overload. People feel overwhelmed. In those years it was easier to say this is “black” or this is “white”. Perhaps the fight against climate change is the only one that is clear, but in everything else, there is much confusion. Capitalism eats everything, capitalism needs rebels and extreme left types. Where is the red line?
Follow the topics that interest you