– The first Swiss series shot entirely in the canton of Ticino and co-created by Erik Bernasconi and Robert Ralston Jr, depicts a series of crimes with a distinctively Scandinavian flavour
Maria Anolfo, Anna Pieri Zuercher, Gianmarco Tognazzi and Luca Di Giovanni in Alter Ego
Although Ticino, the most Latin canton in Switzerland, is famous for its mild climate and friendly inhabitants, it isn’t this aspect of the region that the TV series Alter Ego – composed of six episodes, each lasting 45 minutes – chooses to home in on, quite the opposite. Ticino-born director Erik Bernasconi and his Swiss-British colleague Robert Ralston Jr., who co-curated the direction of this series, presented in a world premiere in the Geneva International Film Festival (GIFF), catch us off guard on this occasion, treating us to a dark and mysterious story born out of the choppy waters of Ticino’s underworld.
Alter Ego takes place at the height of the Bellinzona Carneval (the famous Rabadan festival), which offers a moment of communion, known throughout Switzerland, in which people free themselves from all inhibitions and indulge in wild dancing and heavy drinking. But it’s a cathartic moment transformed into a veritable nightmare in Bernasconi and Ralston’s hands. Almost exclusively shot in half-light, emphasising the austere architecture of Ticino’s capital which is dominated by an imposing medieval fortress, the series has its roots in a mysterious past and in the secrets inhabiting this peripheral land on the border between charming Italy and severe German Switzerland.
The series begins with the discovery of a young woman’s body, which has been arranged in a seemingly ritualistic way. Heading up the inquiry is Inspector Blum, played by Gianmarco Tognazzi, a character who seems to come straight from the pages of a Scandinavian thriller. An elegant workaholic with a complicated family life, Blum tries to solve the mysteries surrounding this first brutal murder, whose unfortunate protagonist is the daughter of a well-known, wealthy entrepreneur. With things left unsaid circulating within the police station, we’re immediately struck by the similarity between this young woman’s bloody death and only too recent, real-life events. In the past, peaceful Bellinzona has borne witness to other sordid affairs, which suddenly re-emerge, meaning that it’s not only material evidence which finds itself scrutinised, it’s first and foremost the secrets of this community, whose peaceful facade hides some troubling mysteries.
Whilst those familiar with Ticino, and Bellinzona in particular, might find the tale fairly unlikely, the directors’ intelligent approach to placing the story within a genuinely real social context (the Carneval is the very soul of the city) results in a captivating and intriguing series. Thanks to works like Alter Ego, Switzerland is moving away from its notorious rationality and venturing into dark and unknown territory, bringing deep change to the sector.
The cast – which, in addition to the afore-mentioned Tognazzi, also includes Anna Pieri Zuercher (who’s featured in other hit Swiss series such as Neumatt [+see also:
series profile] and Hors Saison) as a well-known pathologist, Maria Anolfo, who’s one of Blum’s young collaborators, alongside Giorgia Würth, Bruno Todeschini and Matteo Martari, who plays a successful profiler – lends the series an extra layer of credibility and, dare we say it, glamour. Well documented and aesthetically sophisticated (with a special mention going to the series’ music, curated by Marcel Vaid and Zeno Gabaglio), Alter Ego will definitely enrich an increasingly varied and high-quality catalogue of Swiss series.
Alter Ego is produced by Ticino’s Amka Films in co-production with RSI Radiotelevisione svizzera, with Wild Bunch TV managing international sales. The series will be broadcast as of December on RSI and will then be available in three languages on RTS and SRF, as well as on the on-demand Play Swiss platform.
(Translated from Italian)