Hiver nomade – Berlinale Forum 2012

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Hiver nomade (Winter Nomads)
Director: Manuel von Stürler
Switzerland, 2012

Venue: Delphi Filmpalast
Friday, 10 February 2012

“The sheep have a short but very nice life.”

Over a dark screen, we hear winter wind; boots on snow. Sheep, dogs, donkeys emerge. “Excitement is in the air.”

Pascal Eguisier, 54, and his assistant Carole Noblanc, 28, prepare to head through Switzerland on Pascal’s thirty-third, and Carole’s sixth, winter transhumance – an ancient seasonal movement of people and livestock.

Pascal was trained by Italian Bergamask shepherds, and now he trains Carole, the only woman in Switzerland and maybe in Europe to experience the winter transhumance. They met while Carole was hiking in the Swiss Alps.

Beautifully photographed and with an exquisite sensibility for sound, Hiver nomade is the first feature-length film from director Manuel von Stürler, a musician and composer.

The team’s journey starts in a driving snowstorm (unseasonably early), with the incredibly loud noise of autos on the highway.

Carole leads Irmate the bellwether with dry bread and chocolate. “When the sheep hear the tinkling, they do what they have always done: they follow!” Carole guides 800 sheep as Pascal brings up the rear.

They make their camps under the open sky, accept wine and pizza from kind farmers, and an occasional evening indoors for a shower and a hot meal. They abide visitors who want to share their campfire when the weather is pleasant, and even the farmers who don’t want sheep on their land.

Special skills and qualities are needed to do this work, and the candidates are few. One needs physical strength, intuition, a good voice, and the social and psychological skill to deal with the animals and all the people encountered on a four-month, 600-km journey with a huge flock of sheep.

One more year, and a success. “The transhumance went well. Let’s give thanks with wine as Mongolians do with milk.” A toast to Irmate, Tobasco, and a new bellwether, Marilyn.

Perhaps this film will help realize Pascal’s dream, of joining the Nenet people of Siberia to follow a transhumance of reindeer beyond the Arctic Circle.

“I’ve chosen freedom, I travel light, I own nothing and I have no banker breathing down my neck. My greatest wealth is living in nature, waking up in the morning and beholding the sky and the Moon.”

Success to Carole, who will now take a break “traveling and making soap to sell in markets… for a bit of solitude after years of having too much social life in the transhumance and the mountains.”

And success to Jean Paul Peguiron, the boss, who has decided to support an old tradition that earns barely any profit beyond what he could earn by fattening his lambs in a stable, and who is worried about his economic survival. (Witness the film Sweetgrass [Berlinale Forum 2009], which documents the last sheep drive into Montana’s Beartooth Mountains, a casualty of the hard economic reality of declining sales of domestic lamb in the United States.)

Berlinale Section: Forum (European Premiere)

Visit the film website: www.hivernomade.ch