Interview with Petra Volpe

Sophie Charlotte Rieger
Sophie Charlotte Rieger

Petra Volpe: One would have to make a film about women’s voting rights in Switzerland

How did it start? Did you come up with the idea or did the idea come to you?

The idea came to me. One day, Reto [Schärli], the producer with whom I work,said : « Actually, one would have to make a film about women’s voting rights in Switzerland ». This hit me like a bomb and I said: « F**k, why did this never occur to me, as a hardcore feminist? »

The movie tells the story of the women’s suffrage in Switzerland. Is there another layer to this story?

Clearly, it is about equality. But also about the courage to stand up for one’s beliefs as well as democracy, the question how we want to live together as human beings, and how men are disadvantaged just the same in a patriarchal system.

Your film looks like a classic « Heimatfilm » in many ways. Why did you choose this style?

We have tried to resurrect this world. Understanding how strong this atmosphere of oppression was, how much Switzerland was cut off from the outside world, can only be seen if the film reflects this conservative climate. The film had to have that conservative style itself to show a conservative society.

How did you manage to do that? How did you approach the topic?

We searched the archives asking the following questions: How were people dressed in these days, what did their living rooms look like? How did they talk, how did they move? Bringing all of this back to life was a very important aspect of the film. Including the risk of giving the film a conservative look and feel.

Why did you choose a comparatively stable and happy main character, instead of a character who would be more visibly suffering from patriarchal oppression, such as domestic violence?

It was extremely important for me not to start the movie with a victim. In this respect I had a problem with "Suffragette", where the main character is portrayed as a victim from the beginning to the end. For me, it was also very interesting to create a main character who is unaware of her oppressed situation.

Why is sexuality so important to your story?

For me, sexuality and politics are closely linked and I deeply feel that the private is political and sexual liberation goes hand in hand with the political liberation of women. You cannot make a film about women’s rights without involving their bodies and sexuality.

Hollywood is finally beginning to understand that womens films are worth shooting. Is this also happening in Germany and Switzerland?

I think so, but it is not that present. In Hollywood, there have been so many actresses and directors who expressed their opinions on the subject. And slowly people are understanding that you can also make money with women’s films, such as "Hidden Figures". We will see how this evolves. You can definitely say that things are changing, even in Germany. I’m a member of the German « Pro Quote Regie » association, and I can see that things are slowly moving.

On TV, however, the progress seems very difficult to me. It would be great if you could make a series!

I am actually working on one right now: “Frieden” is about Switzerland after World War II, another dark chapter in our history. It is a Swiss-German coproduction and among other things tells the story of a young woman, who breaks out of her marriage and runs away. There will be six episodes of 45 minutes each.