Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps (2010) - Switzerland's first genre film? What a horrifically sad tale this film is. The characters who are victims are helpless to stop the circumstances of their demise and it is heart wrenching to watch. The film is one that straddles the line of horror being horrific but not entertaining the audience with horror movie tropes. More of a drama mystery with some horrific behavior by characters and devastating consequences for all involved. This is not a film for people sensitive to the abuse and exploitation of women, as there are some very graphic abusive situations with very limited nudity. The stories behind those abuses are told unflinchingly told to tell a tale of tragedy in a small mountain village. It is full of secrets to be revealed and further tragedy to the inhabitants as it plays out in long flashback until the viewer has the full story. Very well made holding each turn close to the vest and springing it with effective flourish the film is worth the view but at times is also hard to watch. It opens with the discovery of a body in the mountains near the village 30 years after the event. Lead to the remains by a ghost of Albert (Joel Basman) a little girl finds his skeleton while hunting for mushroom. When she identifies him in the list of missing persons for the area the police are confounded. It has been thirty years since he vanished, how could a little girl recognize him? They chalk it up to it being a kid but the stage is set to tell a story. Since the story is based on a German legend it is good to add the early supernatural bent to set the table for what is to come. Smart writing makes it so much easier to slide into the tale and this film does a nice job of it.
The legend of the title is one that is believed in the alps of Switzerland and Germany by shepherds and dairymen. Lonely men would create create a straw doll women that would be their companion in the lonely hours in the high pastures, talking to, dancing with and sleeping with the doll. In the wee hours of the morning it is believed that the doll would come to life, She would retaliate for any wrongs done to her by the man and he would be obliged to stay with her and there is the idea that she could rip the skin from his body for any crimes committed against her.
The main story takes place in 1975 in the village and above at a farm in the Alps. A beautiful setting with vibrant cinematography makes the film visually compelling. The wide shots with deep fields of vision add a real sense of isolation when they are in the mountains. The story begins in tragedy with the suicide of the young priest in the village. The villager a superstitious group feel the weight of his death as a curse. The local policeman is Sebastian Reusch (Nicholas Ofczarek) and he is not going to let local's beliefs stop him from doing a proper investigation into the young man's death. Then there is the first turn of the story. While the funeral procession returns from burying the man a young woman (Labelled in the film credits as the Sennentuntschi (Roxane Mesquida)) wrapped only in a blanket collapses at the back of the line of people. Reusch is there to help and collects her. The villagers seeing the stranger and lead by the head priest are immediately suspicious of the stranger. Reusch now has a dual storyline of finding out the story of the young priest's death and figuring out who this strange beautiful mute girl is. Opposition by the priest and villagers to his investigations are the main obstacles for him in the film.
Andrea Zogg) has taken a volunteer from the city to help in in his summer chores. Martin (Carlos Leal) is a man with a cloudy past who is running away from the city with the law at his heels. An alpine farm is the perfect place to get away from the heat. Those two along with the farmers mute nephew Albert are the focus of the legend. After a night of drinking Absinthe they build a woman doll and dance and party all night. The arrival of Sennentuntschi to the farm makes them think that the legend is more than a tale.
Slowly through the twist and turns of either following these to plot lines we learn the full story of the girl and how she came to the farm and then to the village. The suicide of the priest is a story that also gets resolved as well as learning of the darker side of small village life. Finishing with a tragic flourish before returning to the present day of the movie book ending a really good but sad tale. Being a mystery talking about the plot too much will ruin the film. A film has again shown us why going to or living in a small isolated place is not a good thing. Secrets in these places are protected to the end of time and those who would expose them put themselves in peril. Seek this film out and see how a good mystery is put together. Definitely recommended.