Cyril Schäublin Introduces His Film "Unrest"

"In the end, every historical film probably tells us more about the present than about the past, which is always a construction."
Cyril Schäublin's Unrest is now showing exclusively on MUBI in most countries starting February 22, 2023, in the series Festival Focus: Berlinale.
My grandmother and grandaunts worked in the same watch factory, where their job was to produce the mechanical heart of the watch, the so-called “unruh” (unrest). With our film, we wished to reconstruct a watch factory from the past, and many questions came to our minds: Are the definitions of time and work, developed and established during early industrial capitalism, mere fictions? How are imaginations such as nations and other inventions of the past defining how we inhabit our present together today? Is there something like a capitalist mythology discreetly guiding our everyday life? What are its fairy tales? And what other tales might be possible?
The film also explores the historical beginnings of the anarchist watchmaker unions in the valley of Saint-Imier in Northwestern Switzerland, the valley which became the hub of the international anarchist movement throughout the 1870s. With our film, we wished to invite their ideas into the present and reconsider how we organize our societies, how we cooperate in producing things, and how we can engage in mutual aid practices. 
The film also depicts the encounter between Josephine Gräbli, a watch factory worker producing the unrest wheel, and Pyotr Kropotkin, a Russian traveler and cartographer. The character of Pyotr is inspired by the real Pyotr Kropotkin (1842-1921). His book Memoirs of a Revolutionist—which discusses his time spent in Switzerland, where he became an anarchist—was a source for writing the film. The character of Josephine was based on countless meetings with my grandmother and grandaunts, speaking to me about their labor. The book La condition ouvrière by Simone Weil, in which the anarcho-syndicalist philosopher describes her experiences working in a steel factory in Paris were helpful as well. I thought a lot of Arthur Rimbaud when working on the scenes with Josephine and Pyotr and how he said that love needs to be reinvented (l’amour est à réinventer). 
In the end, every historical film probably tells us more about the present than about the past, which is always a construction. The people appearing in the film and reenacting these situations of the past were all “non-professional” actors, friends of mine or people from the region of Saint-Imier. They are watchmakers, truck drivers, poets, software engineers, unionists, farmers, architects, filmmakers or carpenters. It was so funny to bring them all together to make this film, inviting their minds, languages and bodies to share their knowledge and understanding of things and bring all of this into the film. We all had to acknowledge that we do not know anything for real, especially about the past, and that we can only immerse ourselves in this mystery called film. 
On the first day of shooting, we started with the final scene of the film, in which Josephine explains the heart of the watch, the configuration of the unrest wheel to Pyotr in the woods. It was a warm early summer afternoon, after it had been raining all day. All of a sudden, while filming the scene, the sun came through, shining its evening light into the image. 
I took this picture just before we started filming that scene:
This is an anarchist watchmaker union flag from the 1870s:  
And these are some images of the watch factory where my family used to work:


IntroductionsColumnsCyril SchäublinNow Showing
Please sign up to add a new comment.


Notebook is a daily, international film publication. Our mission is to guide film lovers searching, lost or adrift in an overwhelming sea of content. We offer text, images, sounds and video as critical maps, passways and illuminations to the worlds of contemporary and classic film. Notebook is a MUBI publication.


If you're interested in contributing to Notebook, please see our pitching guidelines. For all other inquiries, contact the editorial team.