the Swiss nudist commune that rebelled against the bourgeois order

Vegans, feminists, environmentalists, anti-marriage, anti-private property and libertarians, Monte Verità was a municipality that foreshadowed the great social movements which will implode in the 60s with May 68 and the hippies. It happened in “boring Switzerland”, in the canton of Ascona, near the border with Italy. The watchword was to overthrow the bourgeois order and create a new world at a time when the first kibbutzim were emerging in Israel, which had a more political component. Celebrities like the novelist Herman Hessethe psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jungthe painter Paul Klee or the dancer Isadora Duncan They were regulars.

The photo of Monte Veritàmade by the Swiss Stephen Jäger (Uster, 1970), recovers the story of these pioneers by giving the main role to Hannah Lietner (Maresi Riegner), a young Viennese bourgeois who flees an unhappy marriage and an environment of repression which does not allow her to create in complete freedom. .

“At the beginning of the 20th century, the cities were overcrowded and dirty, the factories were hyper-polluting, there was a lot of pollution”, explains the director. “In this context arises that willingness to retreat into nature and start over from the beginning. The idea of ​​equal rights for men and women was very important and they wanted to be self-sufficient by growing their own food.”


In complex times like the present, Jäger believes that the example of Monte Verità is fully valid: “Our idea was to show this utopia to tell the world that in this complicated moment in which we live, there are other possibilities. We can come back to nature, accept different sexual identities… Its real revolution is that they communicated, they listened to each other. It is something which, in our society, is more difficult every day. At the moment we are very reluctant to change our point of view, we stick to our ideas.”

Hannah’s release

We are at the beginning of the 20th century, a prosperous time in a Europe soon to be devastated through two world wars. The director says: “They were very modern people. In addition to the socialists, there were also a lot of anarchists, there was a mixture of a lot of ideas. From the 1930s, it was filled with people rich and they built a hotel, but at first it was very pure. His example caused a great stir in the world.. In 1905, newspapers in the United States were already publishing news about Monte Verità”.

In the film, we see the process of personal transformation of Hannah Leitner, a woman who, as Jäger explains, “is not able to accept that she regrets having been the mother of the man whom ‘she married”. Her psychoanalyst, Otto Gross (Max Hubacher), based on a real-life character, convinces her to retire to Monte Veritá, where she is initially uncomfortable.

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“She does not accept that she has to change,” explains the director. “She just needs to escape from the oppressive society of Vienna. Nudism, vegan food… all of this makes her feel overwhelmed at first. Through contact with nature, she understands that transformation is necessary. The most most important that she discovers in Monte Veritá is a place where you feel listened to because he is someone who has not listened to himself either”.

Such a mess of modernity, oddly enough, was well accepted in Switzerland. Says Jäger: “They were considered those crazy people from the south. From 1910 it was filled with artists and began to be better known, but at first hardly anyone knew they existed, it was a very small community, very pure The politicians don’t know They made fun of them and the local people were very happy because they were very poor fishermen and they made money with them. The Church is the one that protested the most and they even tried to shut it down. They lobbied the Bern government complaining about “indecent” nudism and parties, but the police themselves stood up for them. The local police chief replied to the government that they were good people and did not bother anyone. There were few conflicts.”

Celebrities of Monte Verita

The protagonist, a fictional character, not only trusts the advice of her psychoanalyst to go to the commune, but she is also secretly in love with him. The one who existed was his love interest, Otto Grossone of the first Freud’s followers. He is the author of numerous works on what he calls “antipsychiatry” as an advocate of the idea that civilizing repression is contrary to the nature of man.

Another still from the movie.

Another still from the movie.

A champion of sexual liberation, Gross was also a seducer: “He was known to specialize in the treatment of women and he got involved with them. He had up to three children with different patients. He was a complex man because he was not mean, but he was not aware of what his patients needed because he himself was, he was marked by the figure of his father and his domination. what he did with those women was abuse because he did not suffer this trauma.

Winner of the Nobel Prize in 1946 and still very popular writer today, the Swiss Herman Hesse was one of the first guests of Monte Veritá, as seen in the film. According to Jäger, “Hesse went there because contact with nature healed him and also to stop drinking because he had alcohol problems and it was forbidden there. He himself said several times that the nature of the place inspired him Siddhartha. He wrote the novel 16 years later but this is where he started talking about Buddhism In many ways, Hannah’s story is Siddhartha’s story. She’s a woman who has to leave everything behind, her family, her life…to achieve enlightenment as an artist.”

From photography to cinema

Not only nature, the development of her artistic vocation through photography, then in its infancy, also served as a catalyst for Hannah’s process of personal liberation. “The situation of the woman was terrible. There was physical abuse but also psychological. Being an artist was a man thing. In Monte Verità he finds a freedom that only existed then, a place where he can develop flatly,” says Jäger.

To build his story, the director drew the thread of a mystery that still surrounds the town, such as the identity of the person who took the photographs still preserved: “We put a lot of energy into these photographs. Hannah finds a style. trying to capture movement, which also brings us closer to the origins of cinema. The photos were taken digitally and then there was a very laborious processing to create this see unique which was at the same time consistent with the photos that are preserved”.

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