Starring: Pepe Rapazote, Maggie Civantos, Ingrid García Jonsson
Director: Kepa Sojo
Running Time: 86 mins
The Little Switzerland (La pequeña Suiza) is a Spanish film about a small town that, after a failed push for the official recognition of their Basque identity, decides to campaign for annexation to Switzerland after they find the tomb of the son of the Swiss legend William Tell.
It might not be a work of comedic genius, but The Little Switzerland combines light-hearted, silly humour with the odd bit of political mockery to make for a fairly enjoyable watch throughout. As quirky and ridiculous as its story may seem, the film links in well with recent and historical political events in Spain, poking fun where it sees fit, although it will perhaps be a little lost on more general audiences – especially international viewers who won’t be able to tune into a number of the cultural references and in-jokes.
And that’s where I want to start. As a silly bit of comedy, The Little Switzerland is pretty passable, but what it uses to expand itself beyond just that is a lot of cultural and political satire – a lot of which went over my head, and is likely to go over the head of anyone who doesn’t know much about Spain in the modern day.
So, much like the similar Spanish Affair – which was full of comedy about the quirks of the Basque Country (a lot of which I didn’t understand too well) – your enjoyment of The Little Switzerland will vary widely depending on your own background and knowledge. If you’re not Spanish, then a lot of the small references and jabs at Basque culture will definitely fly past you, and that means that a lot of the sillier, more simple comedy is left to carry the load for you.
Where the film worked for me was not its cultural satire, but its mockery of contemporary politics, taking the odd opportunity in this fanciful story to poke fun at a number of major parts of Spanish politics, including the strongly patriotic Basque people (and even the former Basque terrorist group, ETA), as well as a not-too-subtle parallel between the film’s small town and Catalonia, likening the unilateral decision to leave Spain and join Switzerland to Catalonia’s declaration of independence back in 2017.
That’s a bit of a touchy subject, but again, if you’re not into politics and history, then a lot of those jokes will go over your head too. However, I personally had a lot of fun with the movie’s political satire, which blends well with the sillier humour to make for an enjoyable watch throughout, and adds a little bit of meat onto the bones of what is otherwise a fairly skinny and bland film.
Because apart from the satire, there’s really nothing else to impress. None of the main characters are in any way interesting, and the central performances from Pepe Rapazote, Maggie Civantos and others really aren’t that great. The funniest and most engaging characters are actually two of the town’s old men that try to stop the farce of being annexed by Switzerland, but they only crop up every so often, not really proving a huge bonus to the film’s entertainment factor.
The story, too, is as basic as anything, and although the film has a great premise that works well with its satirical sense of humour, as far as keeping you properly engaged in the story goes, The Little Switzerland really doesn’t do a great job, proving really boring in the few moments that it has to leave the comedy behind and try and advance the plot a little.
Again, the sillier, farcical elements are what make the film tick, and its satire beneath the surface brings another dynamic into play, making for an enjoyable watch overall. How you respond to the film will depend a lot on your knowledge of its subject matters, but the film can’t be blamed for that given its role as more of a domestic hit than anything else.
Overall, I had good fun with The Little Switzerland. Largely likable and easy-going, mixed with fun satire throughout, it’s a largely entertaining watch. It may not have too much in terms of a decent story, nor any particularly captivating characters, and a lot of the jokes did go over my head, but on the whole, it was still fun enough to entertain me for a pleasant hour and a half, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.1.