Directed by : Alex Mayenfisch

Genre : Documentary

Duration : 52′

Year : 2013

Original version : French, German, Italian

Subtitles : French

7000 stones, one border

We cross it regularly but rarely focus on it. In Switzerland, the border is never very far away (rarely more than an hour’s drive). The country is small, with no access to the sea, and its links with neighbouring countries are omnipresent.

This film takes us on a journey along this imaginary line in the company of four people who, out of personal interest, have developed an activity and a reflection on this theme.

It is said that borders are disappearing. This is partly true, at least in the Schengen area. Not sure that this is enough to erase it from our minds.

A particular atmosphere emanates from neighbouring countries. Sensing the artificiality of any territorial delimitation, we hesitate between the idea of separation and that of encounter. The border may mark a divide, but it is also the backbone of a wider world.

film intro commentary

At the heart of Europe, an imaginary line traces the outline of a small, sinuous figure. It’s not a hole, it’s not an island, it’s a country: Switzerland. And this line is its border.
It delimits and contains this country without an outlet to the sea, and gives it its shape and its existence. For almost 1,900 km, it separates here from there, with the five countries that surround it.
Just as every territory has its limits, every country has its border. 230,000 kilometers of demarcations criss-cross the five continents.
In Switzerland, the border is never far away. Its omnipresence is a reminder that the country is small. It’s commonplace to rub shoulders with them, to bump into them, to cross them. But we rarely dwell on it. A mark of state authority, a strict legal object, a zone under surveillance, on the face of it the border doesn’t invite you to wander around. And yet…
Relegated to the edges, to the periphery, the border reveals a singular world: that of the in-between. Not quite in one country and not yet in the other. A trace of time inscribed in space, the border is a treasure hunt that goes from boundary to boundary. On each one, an incision indicates the direction of the next. All you have to do is follow the trail: 7,000 boundary markers dot the perimeter of Switzerland.
For some – geographers, lawyers and ordinary border dwellers – the border is an invitation to distance ourselves from where we live…

Quotes from the film

“The border has a lot to offer: mixtures, inter-influences, interbreeding”.

“Switzerland’s borders offer a fascinating diversity of situations. Very few countries in the world offer such a variety of situations.

“The border opens up all possibilities, just like life itself, because the border is part of life and is rich in a thousand possibilities for those who know how to use it with openness.

“A boundary speaks to those who know how to make it speak: it is a witness to history, mute indeed, but a bearer of signs, messages and information.

“We love limits because they reassure us. The border is a master of philosophy, a fascinating source of philosophical and ethical reflection.

“The border is not a dead end, a cul-de-sac, but, on the contrary, an opening towards otherness, towards elsewhere. And when you’re suffocating inside, otherness is a breath of fresh air, a window.

“Every bollard has its own story. They have their history and they also have their names. They have names for surveyors, but they also have other meanings.

“What’s surprising about this imaginary line is that on one side there’s one culture and on the other side another. But the people of the region are not divided. The boundary stone unites us: there’s only one stone, but it indicates two sides.

“Even when it’s perfectly defined, you realize that borders have an irrational side. There are segments that date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, that come from private boundaries, and we’ve inherited some surprising cuts that aren’t always very practical.

“The border always has something to do with the human being. Nature knows no boundaries. They come from different cultures.

“The border is a place of transgression. And there’s a rebellious side to borders. It’s rebellious because it’s a refusal of authority on these borders. Because the border separates nothing, nowhere.

“The entire history of humanity is nothing other than a history of borders and territories. And probably, as long as human beings exist, there will be borders. But they can be pushed back so that they are no longer in our daily minds and we can live relatively freely.

“The border comes and goes, it is moved according to man’s needs. Life is already a frontier, you have to cross it but you also have to keep it. You have to respect it, I think.

The film’s protagonists

The film visits different places on the border in the company of four people who, out of personal interest, have developed an activity and a reflection on this theme.

François Schröter spent part of his childhood in Gondo (the border village on the Simplon road) and wrote his doctoral thesis in geographical law, focusing mainly on places where the Swiss border is based on water (rivers, lakes, dams). “This absolutely delectable thesis is highly recommended to all lovers of geographical poetry”. Jacques Guyaz, Domaine public.
(François Schröter, Les frontières de la Suisse: questions choisies, Schulthess, 2007, 663 p.)

Stéphane Bodénès grew up in Hermence, in a house (in Switzerland) separated from his garden (in France) by the border. He wrote a doctoral thesis in geography on the Franco-Genevan border, followed by a book for the general public on the same subject that combines description and reflection.
(Stéphane Bodénès, Promenades sur la frontière franco-genevoise, Slatkine, 2001, 144 p.)

Peter Matzinger after living far from the border in Bern, Peter Matzinger settled over 30 years ago in the village of Rodersdorf near Basel, 88% of whose municipal boundaries border on France. Since his retirement, he has been developing a project for a border cultural trail to integrate the work of artists along this line that borders Alsace.

Bruno Stieger took advantage of the need to exercise after a long convalescence to photograph the 580 milestones that separate Italy from his region, the Mendrisiotto in the south of Ticino, and to research this segment, one of the oldest, of the Swiss border.

Two Italian smugglers, Gigliana and Emilio, who were active in the 1960s in Tirano in the Valtelline region, add their own personal accounts.

A few facts about the border

The Swiss border is 1,899 km long, shared with five neighboring countries: 744 km with Italy, 572 km with France (i.e. 2/3 for these two countries), 362 km with Germany, 180 km with Austria and 41 km with Liechtenstein.

746 km are in the mountains, 714 in the plains and 436 km (¼) on lakes and rivers.

The route is marked by 7,000 milestones, engravings and pegs.

15 cantons border one or more neighboring countries.

Switzerland is one of the 44 countries out of the 193 members of the United Nations that have no access to the sea and are therefore bounded only by their land border.

The Swiss border was demarcated in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna and has remained unchanged since then (with the exception of a few minor alterations in connection with buildings). The Swiss Constitution and political institutions (1848), the national flag (1889) and the bank holidays (1891) therefore date from after the border was established.

There are 230,000 km of land borders around the world, 30,000 of which have been established in the last twenty years (mainly following the dismantling of the USSR and Yugoslavia), the most recent being that of South Sudan (1,937 km) in 2011.


Editing and directed by : Alex Mayenfisch

Assistant director : Daniel Wyss

Image : Bastien Genoux, Alex Mayenfisch

Sound : Victor Baumgartner

Photography : Mario del Curto, Bruno Stieger

Music : Nikita Pfister

With the voice of : Laurent Sandoz

Map animation : Francisco Fassi

Director assistants : Yves Bouzaglo, Doudou Denisart, Simone Visconti

Sound editing : Jérôme Cuendet

Production : Climage

Coproduction : Radio Télévision Suisse, Irène Challand, Gaspard Lamunière, Steven Artels

Financial support : Fondation vaudoise pour le cinéma, Fonds Regio Films, Fonds de production télévisuelle, Fondation Ernst Göhner

© 2013 CLIMAGE – RTS

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