The greatest strength and weakness of Monte Verità – Stefan Jäger’s Swiss historical drama set in 1906 Locarno – is the fact that it so excellently, yet uncritically, evokes its time. Modern art, dance, and literature are all the rage in upper-class circles – Herman Hesse, Isadora Duncan, and Frank Wedekind are all mentioned by name. Psychology becomes fashionable, and Hanna (Maresi Riegner) seeks help from such a professional as marriage and motherhood fray her nerves. And the idea of the “New Woman” – liberated in dress, speech, and behaviour – promises a route to personal and artistic actualisation. 

As she finds solace and expression in this community, Hanna’s photographs of the women in her circle painstakingly evoke historical photographs of Monte Verità. Her loosening dress and increasingly freckled face show signs of a freer, outdoor lifestyle as the story progresses, and the end of the film reveals many additional tie-ins to real-life characters and artefacts – some well-known, some more mysterious. 

Monte Verità is exquisitely designed, with no detail spared in its evocation of the artists’ colony. However, its observations on female (dis)empowerment and a new scientific and artistic age – which no doubt felt revolutionary at the time – are hammered without nuance (notably in regard to the male characters, who either lack empathetic insight or perform it ostentatiously). There is little insight afforded to a volatile time and equally volatile protagonist, but the film sincerely evokes the era’s popular themes and tragedies in blind certainty of its own virtue, hope, and capacity for rebirth. 

Perhaps Monte Verità could have pushed beneath the surface of this little age of enlightenment, using the themes of liberation and exploration to comment on the lies they often mask. But the film is a gorgeous love letter to a brief, brilliant moment where possibilities felt endless and art transformative.



CAST: Maresi Riegner, Max Hubacher, Julia Jentsch, Hannah Herzsprung, Joel Basman, Philipp Hauss

DIRECTOR: Stefan Jäger

WRITER: Kornelija Naraks

SYNOPSIS: Young mother Hanna takes refuge from her marriage at the Monte Verità sanatorium near Locarno in 1906, finding a community of artists and freethinkers encouraging the “New Woman.”