Unrest movie review & film summary (2023)

In spirit, “Unrest” is an observational film with Schäublin’s camera watching revolutionary ideas exchanged in whispers and polite conversations. Set in the Swiss Jura mountains during the late 1800s, the movie focuses on the experiences of two main characters: Josephine (Clara Gostynski), a Swiss watch factory worker, and Pyotr Kropotkin (Alexei Evstratov), ​​a Russian geographer inspired by the burgeoning anarchist movement in the region. Together, they witness the absurdity of how some watch factory owners treat their employees. They are shortchanged health insurance, micromanaged by the second in the name of productivity, and showing up a few minutes late costs an hour’s worth of pay. Failing to pay municipal taxes can disenfranchise men of voting age, keep them out of community spaces, or potentially land struggling people in jail. They’re among the many indignities that demoralize and exhaust the locals.

Conversely, there’s the grassroots movement of workers helping other workers, egalitarian-minded folk who vote to send relief abroad and raise funds for other communities. Their sense of duty extends beyond their backyard, which is more than what the local upper crust can say when agonizing over lining their pockets. Ultimately, history answers the question Pyotr’s cousin asks at the film’s start, “What will win? Anarchism or nationalism?” but the movie argues that it’s a question worth revisiting.

While philosophically engaging, Schäublin’s “Unrest” is so mild-mannered our protagonists are merely witnesses to what’s happening around them. Rarely are they the impetus of any action, making for a very stiff portrait of the time. Even the pair’s companionship—I hesitate to call it a romance—feels staid. Although the Valley of St. Imier is described as “the capital of the international anarchist rotation circle,” the action is subdued, mostly ideas exchanged in conversation and sometimes with disputes settled with a tidy vote. At times, the discussions are too simplistic, especially given the radical roots of breaking from the more mainstream socialist party for its own anti-authoritarian ideals embedded in the underlying politics. They were fighting against the seeds of nationalism that would, generations later, lead Europe to one Great War after another. “Unrest” is too gentle for this kind of clash of ideas.