Men in the Ring

[original title:  Männer im Ring]

Switzerland 1990. DCP 4:3 (digital restauriert 2020), 35mm + 16mm, colour, 73 min.

Männer im Ring Männer im Ring Männer im Ring affiche

"Men in the Ring? is the last in a trilogy of films which include "The battle of Morgarten? (1978) and "Ex Voto" (1986). In "The battle of Morgarten? we see how Morgarten ? a symbol of freedom ? is celebrated and interpreted today. In "Ex Voto" I keep my promise to film the countryside of my youth. It is an attempt to understand what it means to have a homeland. With all the contradictions that this entails.

"Men in the Ring" is my personal contribution to the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation.

Hundwil: a Swiss village. Twelve houses grouped around a square. The people who live in these houses. In the centre the Landsgemeinde, the annual assembly of male citizens: "direct democracy"

Women?s right to vote, the event of the century. A traditional world with is values and its customs. This traditional order of things faces confrontation from today?s pressures. Old fashioned ideas concerning the division of the sexes are losing ground. At the same time an insecure new generation is searching for is identity, belief and future.

DirectorErich Langjahr
ScriptErich Langjahr
WithKlara Knecht (Dorfladen), Anni und Franz Schüle (Coiffeursalon und Restaurant Harmonie), Fridolin Ecknauer (Rentner), Walter Bruderer (Schreiner), Ruedi Stuber (Kunstmaler), Edwin Gantenbein (Maler), Kurt Brunke (Hochdruckreinigung), Antoinette Müller (Wolle, Mercerie), Paul Meier (Kirchenmesmer), Hans Rohner (Altlandweibel), Liseli Müller, Peter Müller, Rita Vracko (Bäckerei, Konditorei Müller), Fredy Ammann mit Lehrling Konrad Oertli (Metzgerei Ammann)

Landsgemeinde 1989 in Hundwil Appenzell Ausserrhoden: Arnold Koller (Bundesrat); Regierungsräte: Hans Ueli Hohl (Landammann), Hans Höhener, Jost Leuzinger, Hansjakob Niederer, Alfred Stricker, Hans Mettler, Hanswalter Schmid, Werner Niederer; Jakob Freund (Landweibel), Hans-Jürg Schär (Ratschreiber), Hansjörg Ritter (Polizeikommandant), Peter Hafner (Verwaltungspolizei), Regierungsräte des Kantons Zug (Gastkanton an der Landsgemeinde) und alle Beteiligten an der Landsgemeinde
PhotographyErich Langjahr, Otmar Schmid, André Simmen
SoundSilvia Haselbeck, Ingrid Städeli, Ruedi Guyer
EditingEdwige Ochsenbein und Erich Langjahr
MusicMani Planzer Komposition und Leitung, Hans Anliker (pos), Toni Birrer (th, tub, Alphorn), Peter Böhringer (tp), Martin Brügger (kb), Manuel Hebeisen (ob, eh), Florian Nussbaumer (tp, flh), Manuel Oertli (ts, Talerschwung), Peter Schmid (sax, bcl, afl), An
CollaboratorsMischung: Pierre-André Luthy
Duration73 min.
FormatDCP 4:3 (digital restauriert 2020), 35mm + 16mm
VersionsDCP, 74 Min., Farbe, Originalversion und Untertitelversionen deutsch, französisch, italienisch, englisch, spanisch, portugiesisch,
35mm, 76 Min, Farbe, Lichtton, 1:1.37 - 1:1.66, Schweizerdeutsch
Untertitelversionen: englisch, spanisch/portugiesisch; d
Sales DVD/VideoDVD, VHS   [order]
FestivalsSolothurn, Nyon, Locarno, Leipzig (D) Augsburg (D), Hannover (D), München (D), Duisburg (D), Würzburg (D), Göttingen (D), Berlin (D), Freistadt (AT), Paris (FR), Strasbourg (FR), Saint Flour (FR), San Sebastian (ES), Gent (BE), Karlovy Vary (CS), Washington (USA), San Francisco (USA), Calcutta (IN), Bombay (IN), Delhi (IN), Madras (IN), Pärnu (Estonia)
Pro Helvetia: Bremen (D), London (GB), Izmir (TR); Lateinamerika: Uruguay, Argentinien, Paraguay, Brasilien, Chile, Peru, Bolivien, Ekuador, Kolumbien, Venezuela, Panama, Mexiko, Kuba; Südafrika: Johannesburg, Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Potchefstroom, Potsdam (D), Kish International Documentary Film Festival (Iran)
Festivals, Awards"Mention spéciale" Jury Internat. , Festival Int. Nyon 1990
"Mention spéciale" Jury du public, Festival Int. Nyon 1990
Ehrendiplom der Internat. Jury, Leipziger Dokfilmwoche 1990
"Le grand prix documentaire", Festival du Film de Strasbourg de l'Institut International des Droits de l'Homme, 1991
"Honorable Mention" Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Video Festival, San Francisco 1992
"Honorable Mention" Int. Ethnographic Film Festival, Göttingen 1993
The award issue by "The Baltic Independent", Pärnu Int. Visual Anthropology Festival, Pärnu Estonia 1994
Qualitätsprämie Eidg. Departement des Innern
ScreensSchweiz: Programmkino in 14 Städten/Orten und Vorstellungen an ca. 65 verschiedenen Orten
Deutschland: Schwäbisch Hall, Schorndorf, Villingen, Freiburg i.Br., Stuttgart, Berlin, Dortmund, Dresden.
TV broadcastsDRS, 3-SAT, Arte, Finnish Broadcasting CO, Estonian TV, Planete
ProductionLangjahr-Film GmbH, Luegstrasse 13, CH-6037 Root
Tel. +41-41-450 22 52 – Fax +41-41-450 22 51
E-mail: info@langjahr-film.chsend this
World RightsLangjahr-Film GmbH
Distribution Switzerland
and international
Langjahr-Film GmbH, Luegstrasse 13, CH-6037 Root
Tel. +41-41-450 22 52 – Fax +41-41-450 22 51
E-mail: info@langjahr-film.chsend this
Suisa number0034.098

Press review

A new dawn in Appenzell
A talk with Erich Langjahr (Switzerland)

At long last, women in the Swiss Appenzell-Ausserhoden can have a say in the matters of their canton. Another anachronism has been overcome, one would think. On the other hand, after seeing your film, a conflict  remains, the indistinct feeling that with this decision, which actually is a sensible one, something is getting lost...

I am trying to bring out this conflict. The film is a metaphor. It reflects conditions in a country as a whole. The questions of women’s suffrage serves as a  model for other questions which all Swiss will soon be faced with. In 1992, the single European market will come. There is a big fear that the Swiss may lose their independence and self-determination, even their identity. People are afraid that minor structures which have grown over many years – not only traditions, also ways of life – may possible have to be sacrificed to the larger context. Of course, everybody knows that there will be changes in the year to come: they are very clear about that in their heads, however, they have not yet settled for it emotionally.

The "Appenzeller", the typical local attitude, if you see it like that, which is in everybody’s mind in a world like ours, is not only a Swiss peculiarity.

Men in the Ring
Mnner im Ring was Erich Langjahr's anniversary gift to Switzerland on the occasion of its 700th year anniversary in 1991. Its subject is the Landsgemeinde of Appenzell Ausserrhoden in eastern Switzerland, one of the few largescale examples of a sovereign, direct democratic institution which governs a territory. Less dryly put, it is the annual occasion where citizens gather in a village square to vote in their government for the next year and to decide policy issues, all by an open show of hands.

The "men in the circle" of this film at one level depict a political ritual which has at least a 400-year tradition. The 'lived community' and the seriousness with which citizens take their duties towards the state come out very clearly, and serve as a reminder that democracy can mean a rather different kind of political participation than the anonymity of the ballot box.

At another level, this is a discourse about the difficulties of Swiss identity in the late 20th century, and as such part of the quite self-critical tone of many contribution to the 700th year anniversary. The confrontation between images and patterns from the past and the demands of the future are particularly evident in Langjahr's choice to document the Landsgemeinde of April 30, 1989, in Hundwil, the one in which the Ausserrhoden men after balking for 18 years finally decided to admit women into cantonal politics. By the time this vote occurred, there was little disagreement that women had a right to participate: the problem was that it would mean the end of an exclusively male tradition, the Landsgemeinde. To many in the area, that was tantamount to the end of the institution itself.

The 1989 meeting was also going to be the last chance for the Landsgemeinde itself to determine what the future would hold before the federal authorities and Constitutional Court forced the canton to accept women's participation - as they in fact did in the neighboring Catholic canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden in 1990.

Langjahr documents the two months leading up to the Landsgemeinde as well as the event itself, and does so without voiceover. The sentiments associated with the Landsgemeinde are communicated entirely by the Appenzellers themselves - in particular, those who live in Hundwil where the meeting takes place. First we see a woman, doing her ironing in her living room and talking about the Landsgemeinde: from her we gather that the event takes place on the village square, and that the houses framing the square turn into a spectators' arena. She and everyone else who lives in a house on the square rents out her windows to the many non-citizen onlookers who appear for the occasion. But we also learn of her days as a small shopkeeper, her upcoming retirement, and the difficulties of making a living in a tiny, rural village. The scene shifts to a barber and a woman restaurant owner, both shown at work, who formulate their opinions about why women should or should not vote. And we watch over the shoulder of a young painter of naive art a genre that celebrates traditional scenes of peasant life in a distinct style while he talks of the need for change and how welcome women's political decision-making power ought to be.

We also get to know the butcher and the baker, and watch them prepare the special foods for the Landsgemeinde as they think out loud about relations between men and women, between economic needs and work, between their village and political ceremony and between their home region and Switzerland. As the day of the Landsgemeinde approaches, Langjahr manages to familiarize the viewer with the relevant elements of the institution: costume and music, the swords which are worn by voters which serve as their sole means of identification, the wooden stage from which the elected officials direct the proceedings, and the food and drink that belong to the sensual experience of the Landsgemeinde. The build up to the crucial vote on moments suffrage is such that one senses the mix of festive joy and political tension, whether one knows the outcome or not.

Langjahr captures an element in this film that viewers rarely experience: a turning-point, a moment of decision that irreversibly changes the contours of public (and perhaps also private) life. His film gives us just enough of a pause in the flow of events to reflect on how tradition and innovation interact for individuals and for a collectivity, providing a human dimension to an event which may pass us by as a brief radio or television news note. In a world seemingly torn between the calls of international universalisms and local patriotisms, Langjahr reminds us that there may be a place to shape meanings through collective decisions. He makes sure to remind us as well that while we may prefer progressive directions, individual and collective processes may remain stubbornly wedded to the past, and may take years to overcome.

The picture is framed by shots of the landscape, a cinematographic replication of the harmonious views achieved in the local style of painting. The portraits of individuals worked into the documentary are intimate yet non-intrusive. There is an ease and warmth about the entire film that manages to convey understanding and compassion for the conflicting views and values which are expressed.

Mnner im Ring has been awarded the grand prize at the 19th film festival of the International Institute for Human Rights in Strassbourg and has received honorary mention at a number of documentary film festivals. Langjahr's gift to fuse artistic direction and conscientious documentation make his film an excellent vehicle for understanding Swiss political culture.

John Bendix, Forschungsstelle fr Politische Wissenschaft, Universitt Zrich, Regina Bendix, Seminar fr Volkskunde, Universitt Basel