Peter Mettler: While the Green Grass Grows. A Cinematic Diary

No doubt, Swiss/Canadian Peter Mettler is a great filmmaker. With a long and interesting filmography (8 of his films are to be found here: Always searching for new ways of approaching important themes from the life we live, asking questions, giving no answers but offering visual and verbal reflections that you as a viewer can take in and fit to your own life. He is a brilliant cinematographer and he does not refrain from using animation and have sound and image play with each other. Nothing is predictable and yet there is a strong red thread in this 166 minutes long film, which he started filming in 2019 and which is only two chapters our of 7, a series he calls it on his (excellent) website It will be 12 hours!

The red thread, as he says in the interview on the website: “It all happened between 2019 and 2021, and my dad died in the middle of that, and my mom died just before that.”

Julie and Freddy, his parents, were immigrants ending up in Canada but with a strong connection to Switzerland, Appenzellerland, total beauty, mountains and rivers that Mettler films again and again, with snow and without, with forests, nature that he – and many of us – were attracted to during the Covid period.

The amazing beginning of the film has his mother (PHOTO) in focus, obviously at the end of her life yet alive answering the son’s question, “how would you summarize your life in a couple of sentences” – she lived 4 more years – “up and down” and the she thanks the son for being the one he is. Surprisingly for the son and the filmmaker, who put that pretty personal question. And she says that she hopes to be able to dance again… somewhere. Mettler lets her dance later in the film, yes what a medium Film, where you can go back and forward, come back to a scene you has before, enlarge it.

Go forward – parents and son in a sofa with binoculars, Mettler passing it on – take a look into the future. Afterlife is a theme, reincarnation and I was totally charmed by a comment from the director – or was it from one of the many other interesting people in the film he meets and talks to: Look at the flowers, they come back again and again, so why not us human beings? (Words to that effect).

Freddy comes over from Canada to Appenzellerland and Mettler has a long sequence, a short film in itself, with water flowing in the river, in different angles, in different directions, like life itself. As a prologue to father and son spreading the ashes of Julie into the river, let it flow to the sea. Afterlife: “As long as people remember you, that´s the life after death, it has to be enough”, Gass, a friend of Mettler says; filming people make them stay alive after death, that’s why we make films, I would add with a quote from Lithuanian film poet Audrius Stonys.

The second part of the film includes archive of the parents, when “they were younger than I am today”, it’s Covid time and Mettler stays at home looking at films he has made before, sorting out celluloid in the cellar – and visiting the father Freddy, who is alone in the apartment that is full of photos of Julie, with some fine footage of the two. Julie says that it is important to have feelings, Freddy tries to answer the filmmaker’s question on how to interpret “The Grass is always greener etc.”, and one day he phones asking Peter to come over, he is in bed, he needs company, his health gets worse. Mettler takes the viewer in and out of the hospital until the end, he stays 9 days at the bed, letting the two dance to the tunes of “We’ll Meet Again”. The coffin is in the picture – Peter spreading the ashes in the garden of their home.

There is so much more than I have been putting a focus on, I can only say that I am looking forward to watch the coming 5 parts of a unique Cinematic Diary of a great filmmaker, who says he has a love/hate relationship to filmmaking, at the same time as he feels that with a camera in hand his observational skills are at his best!

Canada/Switzerland, 2023, 166 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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