Gotthard Schuh: A Sensual Vision of the World
EXEC PROD Michela Pini
PROD/SCR Villi Hermann
CAM/ED Alberto Meroni
MUS Zeno Gabaglio, Christian Gilardi, Eliana Burki, Andrea Manzoni
PROD CO Imagofilm Lugano
Villi Herman’s film is less a straightforward biopic than a visual meditation on the life and career of Gerhard Schuh (1897-1969), the Swiss pioneer of photojournalism whose “poetic realism” and vivid narrative sense transformed the genre.
In 1937, after an already successful career in Europe, he was expelled from Germany. He departed for Indonesia and found a spiritual home in Bali. While there he began recording, in innumerable images of startling beauty, the people and performance traditions of what he called “The Last Paradise.” Schuh’s images helped establish Bali as a tourist Mecca, and director Herman moves between Schuh’s images (most strikingly of the photographer’s teenage mistress Sarna) and contemporary reality.
The film seems to propose a simultaneity and exchange, but it’s continually interrupted by small details not matching up—the glare of a cell phone, the stiffness of the young dancers, the sense of a culture that’s been looked at and photographed to a point of saturation. The very beauty and freshness of Schuh’s images become a factor in the erosion of a culture.
Schuh returned to Europe, to a long and successful career, influencing students like Robert Frank, whose vision of the American heartland as exotica in The Americans is poetic realism in the best Schuh tradition. But what one takes away from this film is a sense of the price that beauty and exoticism exact, as well as memories of a visual culture, seen in the many elegant and extravagant papers and magazines Schuh worked for—a place and time when straight photography had a prestige and authority unthinkable today.