Article published on March 3, 2014
Article published on March 3, 2014

After directing the imaginary trial of Cleveland versus Wall Street, the Swiss documentary-maker Jean-Stéphane Bron has moved on to examine political life in his own country. With The Blocher Experience (L'Expérience Blocher), he presents us with an intimate portrait of one of the architects of the distrust between Switzerland and the European Union

Since 1992, he has been com­pared to the French­man Jean-Marie le Pen and to the late Aus­trian Jörg Haider. But Christoph Blocher is more than just a top spokesman for ex­treme-right Eu­ro­pean pop­ulism. In a few years full of media ma­nip­u­la­tion, each one dodgier than the last, he has be­come the very model of suc­cess.

"I look at your face and I feel like I'm look­ing at my coun­try from an en­tirely new angle," says Bron in voice-over. Para­dox­i­cally, in his fight against the EU, Blocher also shows us one of the many faces of Eu­rope. The film takes us on a tour of the of­ten-wor­ry­ing pre­sent day, which seems to be re­liv­ing the dark past of 1930s Eu­rope. It's a dif­fi­cult and con­tro­ver­sial com­par­i­son, but it feels like it is done in the hope of sal­va­tion.


Jean-Stéphane Bron brings up the sub­ject by think­ing about myths, con­sid­er­ing Blocher "a cen­tral fig­ure in our col­lec­tive un­con­scious". The 1992 ref­er­en­dum on Switzer­land's ac­ces­sion to the Eu­ro­pean Eco­nomic Area marked the birth of his po­lit­i­cal suc­cess. Brocher gave over 200 speeches, ral­ly­ing thou­sands of Swiss cit­i­zens around con­cern about loss of sov­er­eignty. The un­ex­pected 'no' vic­tory made him a ver­i­ta­ble celebrity. In scenes you al­most can't be­lieve, peo­ple com­pare him to a me­dieval king, to Mozart, or even, in one meet­ing, to God. Noth­ing is too ex­trav­a­gant. 

Jean-Sté­phane Bron at­tempts a dou­ble psy­cho­analy­sis, fo­cus­ing on the at­trac­tion of this new­comer and his hum­ble be­gin­nings, whilst try­ing to get in­side his head. A sim­ple pas­tor's son, he stud­ied agri­cul­ture. But lack of land forced him out of his first job. The prim­i­tive need to de­fend your home­land is the basis of Blocher's po­lit­i­cal stance, and the key that links him to the cheer­ing crowds.


Going back to his roots al­lows us to dive into his li­a­bil­i­ties as a fi­nan­cial shark. Blocher the in­dus­tri­al­ist threw him­self into self-con­fi­dent cap­i­tal­ism, buy­ing chem­i­cal com­pany EMS-Chemie in 1983, and amass­ing an es­ti­mated for­tune of $2 bil­lion by 1999 in the process. He was part of the lob­by­ing group which did busi­ness with the South African apartheid regime of the 1980s. The same cyn­i­cal op­ti­mism can be found in EMS-Chemie's part­ner­ships with com­mu­nist China

Trailer for the Blocher Ex­pe­ri­ence

It is his abil­ity to bridge the huge gap be­tween high fi­nan­cial cir­cles and his pop­u­lar sup­port base which brings Blocher suc­cess at the head of the Swiss Peo­ple's Party (SPP). Para­doxes were no prob­lem: he de­fends Swiss salaries against com­pe­ti­tion from for­eign work­ers, but he is also known as a slave dri­ver and the ar­chi­tect of many a busi­ness re­struc­tur­ing, not to men­tion re­dun­dan­cies. There is an un­de­ni­able fas­ci­na­tion in watch­ing him suc­cess­fully use dem­a­goguery to dodge even the most com­plex al­le­ga­tions.


His mas­ter­ful abil­ity to play the media al­lowed him to make the SPP the largest Swiss party, in 1999, be­fore en­ter­ing gov­ern­ment in 2003. He has de­voted him­self to a media cir­cus which, in his own words, con­sists of "being in­creas­ingly provoca­tive to get so­ci­ety talk­ing about some­thing". Start­ing with scape­goat­ing.

Xeno­pho­bic poster cam­paigns fol­lowed, even going as far as call­ing for­eign crim­i­nals the 'black sheep' of the coun­try. It's even more pop­ulist than it ap­pears at first glance, given that most im­mi­gra­tion in Switzer­land is Eu­ro­pean, from France and Ger­many. Blocher, who likes to de­scribe him­self as hav­ing "ex­pe­ri­enced May 1968 from the other side", stirred up such ten­sions in Swiss so­ci­ety that he was de­s­e­lected from the cab­i­net in 2007, in a his­toric re­ac­tion by the Fed­eral Coun­cil.

It turns out that the 2011 elec­tions were a new per­sonal fail­ure. But, as Jean-Stéphane Bron points out, it should not hide the fact that there was a more pro­found vic­tory in terms of cer­tain ideas be­com­ing more com­mon­place in Swiss so­ci­ety. The proof is in the suc­cess of Feb­ru­ary's pop­u­lar ini­tia­tive "against mass im­mi­gra­tion", which Blocher an­nounces at the end of the doc­u­men­tary.