What if we suddenly spoke another language?

It’s a full moon night when Ruth suffers a stroke. Ruth is the daughter of Swiss-German parents, she was born and raised in German-speaking Switzerland and in German-speaking Switzerland she attended all schools. But when she wakes up after the severe brain problem, she no longer speaks or understands her native language. Much to her partner Marco’s dismay, she Ruth instead expresses herself in fluent French. It is the beginning of a series of misunderstandings, difficulties and rumors, mainly told by the protagonist and by the one who will become her ex. The two try various ways to get along, but the language barrier ends up dividing them.

Forever? ‘La Romanda werewolf’ – short film by Erik Bernasconi, in International premiere on Tuesday 22 November (8.45 pm) out of competition – does not close the door to a rapprochement. It takes at least two to love each other, but ‘If we open our eyes to another language, understanding each other becomes magic’. This slogan from the office of the Federal Delegate for Plurilingualism, which appears at the end in the four national languages, contains the message of the ‘short film’ created for the Plurilingualism Days from 26 to 30 September 2022. Filmed in July and August between Ticino and Valais and Zurich in German, French and Italian, ‘La Romanda mannara, La Romanda striunada, La Romande-garou, Die Werwelsche’ (Sgnauzfilms) is inspired «by real events, as the ‘true’ ones would say» explains with a laugh the director, who is also the producer and screenwriter of the short film. «The starting point is an episode reported in the press about ten years ago, relating to a Germanic woman who, after suffering a stroke, no longer spoke German but Swiss German. In fiction I have not chosen a scientific approach, because the intent is to reflect on plurilingualism. As a minority, we Italian speakers are more often confronted with the use of a language other than our own when we move around the country. Somehow I present this point of view, highlighting the Italian a little towards the end of the story; although in history itself Italian still occupies a small part. Just as it is in Swiss society: Italian exists, but in a limited space. But I preferred to give a positive rather than critical reading. That is, launching the message that, with some effort, one can understand. If everyone puts their own effort into communicating, we can do it».

While a version entirely subtitled in Italian will pass in Castellinaria, the online video only translates the parts into Swiss German (as it is not the national language). «The client’s intention was to have dialogues in the national languages ​​without subtitles; so as to make us really ‘feel’ plurilingualism. In my view, this choice is a further asset of the short film: in this way we can realize that yes, sometimes communication is difficult, but if everyone puts a little effort into it, we can understand each other». English, on the other hand, does not find a voice, a language which in Switzerland, especially by young people, is not infrequently used as a passe-partout. «The nature of the project aimed to tell the story of Swiss culture, so English didn’t really come into account».

Alongside the professional actors Anna Pieri (Ruth Gautschi), Leonardo Nigro (Marco Egger) and Marco Mottai (the Ticinese whom the protagonist meets in Locarno), Bernasconi has «gave up the pleasure of experimenting in a work of improvisation and in this sense some characters are played by some members of my family, whose perfect multilingualism I was able to exploit». Partner Yasmin Ahatri as Samira Bernasconi, Ruth’s friend; the niece Elena Luna Dima is Sarah Waldburgher, neighbor of Ruth and Marco in Zurich); mother-in-law Ruth Grünenwald is Melanie Gautschi, Ruth’s mother. “Directing was fun. The system is based not so much on a rigid script, but rather on a characterization of the characters, on a given story. This gave actors and non-actors freedom to improvise, which worked well.”

“And what do you do on full moon nights?”, asks Ruth (in French) appearing after the credits. It was a way to end with a smile. Or even, why not?, to raise some doubts. What we tell is the story, more or less invented, of a person; but how do we place ourselves in all this?».

What if we suddenly spoke another language?