– Olmo Cerri’s documentary brings to light a story as incredible as it is uncomfortable that summarises the contradictions of the youth revolts of the late 1960s

Review: La scomparsa di Bruno Bréguet

Presented in a world premiere at the Solothurn Film Festival, where it is competing for the Visioni award, La scomparsa di Bruno Bréguet, the new documentary from the Ticino-born director Olmo Cerri tells the story of a high school student who, it seems like so many others like him, became a true revolutionary ready to do anything to defend his ideals. A son of 1968, Lugano native Bruno Bréguet embraces with all his being a youthful, rebellious and protesting spirit, which suits him perfectly. Even in peaceful Switzerland, many were those who, starting from the famous year 1968, took a stand against institutions and mentalities in which they no longer recognised themselves, but no one dared to go as far as Bréguet did. It is this intransigence, throwing the famous Swiss spirit of diplomacy out of the window, that the film focuses on, trying to understand the reasons that may have pushed a young Ticino native to follow such a tortuous path.

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The story of Bruno Bréguet, as fascinating as it is shocking, begins in 1970 when, as a young university student of 20, he is arrested trying to enter Israel with explosive material. This risky move in the name of the Palestinian cause cost him a seven-year prison sentence in Israeli prisons. It is precisely during his detention, marked by physical and psychological torture, that he becomes radicalised, and that his anger towards the social injustice experienced by the Palestinian people is transformed into an existential position. From the moment of his release, and before his mysterious disappearance in 1995 on a ferry taking passengers from Italy to Greece, Bruno Bréguet is involved in several attacks and imprisoned in France, but most significantly of all, he joins the controversial group around the terrorist Carlos.

After first causing a media sensation, Bréguet literally disappeared off the radar, leaving many questions unanswered. To reconstruct his story, the director relied on the autobiographical book La scuola dell’odio (The School of Hate), from which he read some extracts, and above all on the testimonies of those who knew him and were his friends. Through their stories, what emerges is not only Bréguet’s mysterious and complex personality but above all the spirit of an era marked by a visceral need for freedom and truth.

Although their mutual friend took a very different path from theirs, abandoning a pacifism deeply rooted in the youth of that period, none of the acquaintances or friends of Bréguet interviewed for the film (the family preferred not to participate) judge his choices. In a historical moment as tragic as the one we are going through, the questions raised by the story of this young man resonate even more strongly. How far can you go to defend your ideals of equality and social justice? How much is non-violence worth to those who live in constant terror, crushed and humiliated? 

Beyond the incredible story of Bruno Bréguet, it is precisely on these questions that the film, with the help of those who experienced the birth of youth movements, reflects. In their stories, respectful and still full of emotion, we perceive the difficulty of reconciling ideology and radicality, dreams and concrete reality. Rich in a dark subtext made up of unsaid words and sentences difficult to formulate, the film opens a debate on the concrete possibilities we have, today, of influencing and (why not) transforming the society in which we live.

La scomparsa di Bruno Bréguet was produced by Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion, SRF Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen and Associazione REC.

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(Translated from Italian)

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