During World War II, Switzerland severely limited refugees: “Our boat is full.” A train from Germany halts briefly in an isolated corner of Switzerland. Six people jump off seeking asylum: four Jews, a French child, and a German soldier. They seek temporary refuge with a couple who run a village inn. They pose as a family: the deserter as husband, Judith as his wife, an old man from Vienna as her father, his granddaughter and the French lad, whom they beg to keep silent, as their children. Judith’s teenage brother poses as a soldier. The fabrication unravels through chance and the local constable’s exact investigation. Whom will the Swiss allow to stay? Who gets deported?
In 1996 a panel was created called the Independent Commission of Experts headed by historian Jean Francois Bergier to study Switzerland’s wartime past. The report of the Bergier Commission, though acknowledging the many refugees Switzerland accepted during 1940-45, condemned its wartime practices of deporting Jewish refugees (around 30,000) back to Germany, accusing Swiss officials of pursuing an inhumane policy at odds with the country’s tradition of offering asylum to those facing persecution. A Swiss/Austrian/West German co-production, Markus Imhoof’s striking drama The Boat is Full dramatizes this issue, challenging myths about Swiss wartime virtue and innocence.
Nominated for an Oscar in 1982 for Best Foreign Film, The Boat is Full is not widely known in the U.S. but it is one of the finest films dealing with the holocaust. In the film, a group of German Jewish refugees must pretend they are a family in order to be granted asylum in Switzerland (refugee families with children under 6 are allowed to remain in Switzerland) but are faced with the rigidity of small-minded bureaucrats who see it as their duty to uphold the letter of the law. As the film opens, a German train is halted because of a Swiss attempt to wall off the tunnel to close potential escape routes. Six people, four Jews, a French child, and a deserting German soldier jump off the train and seek refuge at a rural inn, run by a married couple Laurent and Franz Fluckiger (Renate Steiger and Mathias Gnadinger). It is only afterwards that they discover that the country maintains strict quotas and that they are in danger of being deported.
To survive, they pose as a family. Judith Kruger (Tina Engel), a young woman, pretends that she is the wife of Karl Schneider (Gerd David), a Nazi deserter, an elderly man from Vienna, Lazar Ostrowskij (Curt Bois) pretends to be her father, and a young boy (Simone Maruice), who can only speak French, pretends that he is a deaf mute. The scheme is threatened, however, when a hard-nosed constable comes to investigate and Judith’s real husband escapes from a work camp and tries to find her. Though we do not know the protagonists on other than a surface level, The Boat is Full is still a powerful film that reminds us that rigidly supporting the letter of the law does not always mean adhering to its spirit, or understanding the personal consequences that may result.
Director: Markus Imhoof
Writers: Alfred A. Haesler (book), Markus Imhoof (scripted by)
Stars: Tina Engel, Hans Diehl, Martin Walz
Country: Switzerland | West Germany | Austria
Release Date: 15 January 1981 (Germany)
Also Known As: The Boat Is Full
Filming Locations: Diepoldsau, Kanton St. Gallen, Switzerland
Format : Matroska
Format version : Version 4
File size : 1.04 GiB
Duration : 1 h 43 min
Overall bit rate : 1 436 kb/s