Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"It has the sweetness – and cartoonish violence – of a wholesome Sixties family film, albeit with a European attitude to nudity."

There’s a long-established subgenre of romcom which focuses on the way prospective partners encounter each other in passing. Sometimes they’re working in the same office. Sometimes they visit the same park or catch the same train. Veit Helmer has taken the idea to its natural conclusion in this tale of two women whose romantic connection develops as they pass for just a few moments at a time whilst travelling in opposite directions between mountaintops, in their gondolas.

The cable car has, perhaps, an equally well established pedigree as a romanticised form of transport. Here it functions as part of a joyously cliché Swiss landscape full of warm-hearted peasants engaging in rustic pursuits in the valley below. Children wave at the passing gondolas. Men chop wood. A choir sings. The welcome isn’t quite so warm for Ida (Mathilde Irrmann) when she walks down to the village. Men stare at her. Gossiping women abruptly close their windows as she walks by. She’s a bit of an outcast, but her life is about to change.

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The film opens with a grim-faced woman in black trying to squeeze a coffin into one of the gondolas. The first of many unlikely things to get this treatment – including a reluctant cow – it turns out to contain the remains of a previous cable car operator. Going through an old box of possession, Ida finds a photograph of herself standing next to him when she was a child. Evidently, she has always wanted to work on the gondolas. After passing a basic test – she’s the only applicant who can fit into the uniform – she takes over his role, and it’s there that she encounters the mischievous, high-spirited Nino (Nino Soselia).

Switzerland is a country with four official languages, but Helmer speaks to them all by the simple expedient of avoiding words altogether (apart from a single “Okay,” and some evocative noises). The women cannot, after all, converse as they pass through the air, so their gradually developing flirtation takes different forms, and the inventiveness of this is a lot of what gives the film its charm. Meanwhile, we get to know more about the locals, who include a young boy and girl who are developing a romance of their own, much more shyly. The station manager acts as foil, generally irritable and obnoxious, outright fuming when he realises what is going on between his staff. He also expresses ongoing hostility towards a wheelchair user who wants to ride in the cable car, and who will eventually be compensated in a way just as delightful and dangerous as falling in love.

Despite a plethora of entertaining details, the film inevitably sags a little in the middle, once the audience has got used to the conceit and before the build-up has given way to action. It’s worth bearing with it, however, as there’s a lot of fun to come, including a gleefully petty section when the women find themselves at odds. It has the sweetness – and cartoonish violence – of a wholesome Sixties family film, albeit with a European attitude to nudity. As long as you’re not too prudish, however, it’s good for all ages, with humour that everyone can engage with.

Screened as part of Frameline48, this is a wonderfully different approach to depicting same sex romance. Endearing performances, great comic timing and creative use of music make it a film which many viewers will want to watch again and again.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2024
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Gondola packshot
Two female cable car operators fall in love as they pass each other in their gondolas.

Director: Veit Helmer

Writer: Veit Helmer

Starring: Nino Soselia, Mathilde Irrmann, Zuka Papuashvili, Ninara Chichinadze

Year: 2023

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: Germany, Georgia


Frameline 2024

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