Patricia and Ikendu meet in a town in Italian-speaking Switzerland. He comes from Mali, she’s…
“All the Things You Don’t Know About Me” is based on real events. However, in…
The dramaturgy of the film is not oriented towards the unequivocal, but towards the ambiguous….
Patricia and Ikendu meet in a town in Italian-speaking Switzerland. He comes from Mali, she’s employed and the single mother of two daughters. He keeps silent about the reasons for his flight, but he’s a fantastic cook and brings warmth and stability into the chaos that is Patricia’s life. After their wedding, they live a carefree life, without asking each other too many questions. But one day, Ikendu is arrested and incriminated as a drug dealer by his co-defendants. Now, a difficult period begins for the couple. They both find out things they had previously hidden from one another. At times, this leaves them speechless, at others it causes violent arguments. They often don’t understand the world any longer. Nonetheless their relationship takes an important step forward.
“All the Things You Don’t Know About Me” is based on real events.
However, in reality, the person in question did not (like our protagonist Ikendu) come from Mali, but from Nigeria, and he was sentenced to three years in prison and a 10-year ban from re-entering the country because he denied everything and was not prepared to collaborate with the public prosecutor’s office. Following his repatriation, he was nonetheless prepared to release his public defender from his duty of confidentiality so that we were in possession of all the documents and transcripts when working on the script.
In terms of the dramatic composition, the story of the film has been fairly strongly fictionalized in order to avoid any excessively obvious association with real existing persons. The film, for instance, is not set in Zurich, but in Bellinzona. Nevertheless, it is firmly rooted in reality and considers many facts that, in my view, make it far more credible and relevant than a purely fictitious story.
The film aims to raise some awareness of how the Swiss judiciary deals with suspected African drug dealers. This group of assumed perpetrators represents a demonized section of the population and the general public essentially prefers to simply look the other way. This is the aspect which is of particular interest to me as a director. What happens with us as an audience when we take a closer look? Where do we position ourselves? For me, the challenge lies in doing justice to the core of the story and that means: there is no absolute truth and we cannot make judgement without remaining in doubt.
The refugee crisis is a current topic which has often appeared as headline news. However, the film much rather explores what happens to the refugees when they are no longer in the headlines. What happens when they arrive in Italy and then move on to Switzerland and try to survive? What happens to them when they commit crimes? Do different standards apply to African refugees? How is the evidence treated in detail? How selectively are the documents passed on to public defenders? Ultimately, Ikendu is confronted with a choice between deportation or integration by means of a forced confession. Those who want to stay must adapt.
The treatment of aliens has been a concern of mine since my first film “Jagdzeit” (“Hunting Season”, 1993). The “Einspruch” (“Objection”) series (1999-2012) is about deportations with fatal outcomes, and the two features “Oltre il confine” (“The Other Side of the Border”, 2002) and “L’autre moitié” (“The Other Half”, 2006) tell of the fates of refugees.
My aim has always been to reveal how the way in which we deal with refugees says something about ourselves. The way we treat refugees suspected of crimes mirrors the fact that, in practice, everyone is not equal before the law despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating that all people are born “free and equal in dignity and right”.
I find this topic extremely fascinating because the judicial system here acts as a border within a state, demonstrating that it is not only the Mediterranean, Greece or the fences in the Balkans that mark the borders of Europe. These borders are also tangible for the affected people right in the midst of our society. The issue is therefore also the borders experienced after having already arrived within a society.
I have spent a significant amount of time with Africans. Among them, I have met those who basically want to benefit from the advantages of the western welfare states without having to change their own lifestyle or values. I do not, either, wish to deny that there are refugees who are unlikeable, sexist, intolerant, criminal, or whatever. I do not see the refugees merely as victims. For me, the key question is: Where is the path between the cultures?
The present film project deals with this question and attempts to explore inter-cultural understanding without oversimplifying matters. I am not interested in depicting Ikendu as a uniquely good or uniquely bad person. And the same applies to Patricia. Ikendu stands accused of committing a crime, Patricia (and the audience) doesn’t know whether he or the public prosecutor are right. Sometimes we side with him, sometimes we find his position problematic or baffling. Ikendu, however, is certainly no choirboy. That would be too simple.
The film shows Ikendu’s struggle in a system that is unjust for him. He is not only shown as a victim, but also as a perpetrator, or rather, he is always situated somewhere between the two. The film describes what a woman in Switzerland has to undergo if her husband (with black skin and no Swiss passport) commits a crime and is in denial about having been able to prevent the arrest and all its consequences for the partnership. Patricia despairs, but she does not give up. The opportunities for communication become increasingly scarce and ever more fragile, but they continue exist.
The dramaturgy of the film is not oriented towards the unequivocal, but towards the ambiguous. During the course of the story, we discover ever new facets of the characters. The fundamental question here is: what are people capable of? The story plays with this question and derives its tension through it. New truths keep coming to light, with delays and often troubling for the protagonists, who respond differently to them each time.
As an audience, we form certain images of the characters, or rather, the film presents the characters to us in a certain light. Then, a different light is cast on them and we have to correct our previous image.
The question of what the other is capable of then also leads to a bombshell. Patricia does not trust Ikendu to swallow his pride and make a false confession. She is convinced that he will never do it and that, as a result, he will be unable to obtain a reduced sentence, resulting in deportation to Mali. She therefore has an abortion. Ikendu, in turn, can’t imagine that Patricia could abort the child and he makes the false confession in the belief that his wife is pregnant. When he is released, it all turns out differently.
The film shows how a court case can affect a personal relationship and how the pressure of the legal proceedings engenders behaviours that would not normally find expression.
If, above, I entered into some detail regarding the legal case, it was to clarify my own position. But the focus of the film lies elsewhere: on the couple’s relationship. Ikendu’s detention brings their relationship to breaking point because their few encounters take place through plate glass and both Ikendu and Patricia are scarred by the events. They must now both bear the consequences of their naivety. They face an uncertain future, yet they never quite give up their belief in the relationship. The real aim of the film is in fact to trace the course of this difficult relationship. It’s about two people in a volatile social and political context of today. The context is important, but the couple’s relationship is at the centre. The film seeks to find a beacon of beauty in a love story at the bleak fringes of society.
With Patricia and Ikendu, the film has two protagonists who belong to social groups on the periphery, who from the outset are living in a precarious situation and completely lose the ground from under their feet through Ikendu’s arrest. This makes the film unique and moving for me. Both Patricia and Ikendu are people with faults and limitations, characters who are muddling through life, who make mistakes and think of themselves first and foremost. I like them both very much, with all of their inadequacies. Quite unexpectedly and all the more credibly in my eyes, near the end of the film, Patricia, who has never taught her daughters any Czech, decides to travel to Lake Mácha in the Czech Republic with Ikendu. Somehow, unpredictably, even such an uncompromising figure as Patricia feels a need for reconciliation.
Through Jana, Patricia’s mother, we learn about the problematic mother/daughter relationship that Patricia grew up in and through Tahira, Ikendu’s cousin, we find out that Ikendu is traumatised from being arrested and tortured in Mali in the past. “All the Things You Don’t Know About Me” allows a certain scope for the characters’ pasts, offering possible explanations for their behaviour, which is sometimes difficult to understand.
In the end, Ikendu foregoes the restoration of his honour, which meant so much to him, thereby at least saving a chance of continuing his relationship with Patricia. Why does he do so? Is it because he is starting to accept “Europe”? In the final scenes, Patricia, for her part, overcomes the egotism that has determined her actions over long periods and leaves it to Tahira to pick up her cousin when he is released from prison. Why does she do so? Is it because she is starting to accept “Africa”? In the end, both characters take a leap of faith. The film thus finishes with a ray of hope.
Visual language and directing style
Regarding the visual language it should also, by way of conclusion, be mentioned that the camera captures the action and follows the characters. The main protagonist is Patricia, but I would like to palpably convey the other figures. I would also like to provide context. We see, for example, Patricia asymmetrically framed in focus as she takes in events, while what she is seeing (Ikendu or Alina or another interlocutor) remains blurry. In the blurriness, noises and sounds, including words, gain in meaning. At the same time, they remain out of focus visually and yearn for a resolution. In terms of content, the basic thrust of the story is to bring things into the light of day, to sharpen what is out of focus, and the visual realisation adheres to this dynamic. The same applies to the directing style. We are frequently positioned behind the figures or are in the shadow areas of rooms in order to maintain an ambiguity, only switching to frontal views at specific moments when what we want to see takes place on the face or in the eyes.
Of course, this type of visual language and this directing style play with the audience’s perception. More precisely: with the varying distance from the action and from the characters, with the switch between the discernible and the non-discernible. The visual language and directing style underscore the unpredictability that characterises this story, both in relation to the legal case and the love story.
One reference film for “All the Things You Don’t Know About Me” is “Fish Tank” by Andrea Arnold with its mix of realness and poetry that triggers a differentiated and powerful feeling in me for the milieu and situation of the young protagonists between hopelessness and aggression. Another is “Mommy” by Xavier Dolan, whom I admire for his courage to take his actors to their limits while still maintaining credibility at all times.
Born on 04.12.2006 in Bellinzona, LeAnn-Maria practiced ice-skating when she was very young and then switched to artistic gymnastics. Currently she is taking hip-hop dance classes and she plays the guitar. She has a fresh smile and loves acting.
Cristian Izzo is born in Castellammare di Stabia in 1990. He studied theatre from the age of ten: at the age of 13 he wins the national prize “Pittura fresca” as best actor, under 14 and under 18. He worked with Paolo Ferrari, Valeria Valeri, Paolo Poli. In 2008/2009, at the age of 18, he debuts as actor with the director Armando Pugliese in “Padroni di Barche” by Raffaele Viviani. In 2010 he took part in the cast of “Napoli Appezzi”, directed by Ernesto Lama; in 2011 “Napoli chi resta e chi parte” and “Il giudizio universale”, both directedby Armando Pugliese.
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3rd October 2019
- RELEASE DATE IN SWITZERLAND: 25th November 2019
“Auf einen solchen Film habe ich schon immer gewartet.”
Marcel Bosonnet, Schweizer Staranwalt
“That’s the movie I’ve waited for a long time”
Marcel Bosonnet, renowned attorney
Rolando Colla hat erneut ein sehr eindringliches Drama mit grosser aktueller Dringlichkeit inszeniert, besonders beeindruckend sind auch die beiden Protagonisten!“
Karl Spörri, Künstlerischer Direktor ZFF
“A striking/impressive drama of high actual urgency, featuring awesome protagonists.“
Karl Spörri, artistic director Zurich Film Festival
Un film al di là degli stereotipi e dei pregiudizi, profondo e sensibile.”
“A film beyond stereotype and prejudice, profound and sensitive.“
Roy Garré, Court Judge
“Filmed with great tact and poetry. Linda Olsansky is a perfectly cast, Koudous Seihon highly affecting.”
Cineuropa, Giorgia Del Don
Film Republic Picks Up ‘What You Don’t Know About Me’ (EXCLUSIVE)
October 1 2019, LONDON – London-based sales agency Film Republic has picked up world rights to Rolando Colla’s “What You Don’t Know About Me,” which receives its world premiere this week at the Zurich Film Festival. Read more here.