The Salamander (1971)

Genres - Comedy Drama, Mystery  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama  |   Run Time - 125 min.  |   Countries - Switzerland   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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In La Salamandre, Alain Tanner, as he had in his previous feature, Charles Mort ou Vif, takes his main characters from the fringes of orderly Swiss society: a young woman with a controversial past who can't hold a job, a freelance journalist who decides to document her story for television for easy cash, and another freelance writer who fits his work around housepainting gigs. It's a similarly bleak, naturalistic look at people who can't or don't want to fit into social norms, and though it's lightened by bursts of humor, it too is filmed in a wintry Geneva setting where the sun seems to rarely shine. What distinguishes this from many other films of the period is that Tanner does not sentimentalize or glorify his characters one iota (or demonize or make fun of them, either). They are who they are -- individualists, certainly, but very human, on some levels irresponsible and shiftless, and not terribly sympathetic. The casual sex both men drift into with the subject of their television story seems more a relief from boredom than meaningful affection, and the writers affect little sincere interest in the repercussions of the real-life stories they're turning into television drama. Also, the young woman, played with effective pouty, slightly worn nonchalance by Bulle Ogier, might be admirable in her refusal to put up with officious bosses and dead-end jobs, but is also lacking in ambition and responsibility, with a cold-blooded streak that the reporters almost inadvertently unearth. Though Tanner does ultimately and subtly finger an oppressive social order as the real ill in the mediocrity of the woman's life, his unflinching warts and all portrayals of his protagonists gives them a more rounded, human dimension than many such heroes in movies that question the sociopolitical status quo. Also worthy of mention is the Pink Floyd-ish soundtrack by Patrick Moraz, several years prior to his enlistment as keyboardist in the prog rock supergroup Yes.