The Weak flickering of human decency in the glare of raging inhumanity is the one theme of Markus Imhoof's "The Boat Is Full," a story about refugees from Nazi Germany unsuccessfully seeking asylum in Switzerland. Artistically done but unrelievedly dismal, the film has only this point, and makes it in every single scene. Time after time, we hear Swiss peasants pointing out how much refugees would deprive them by eating. Over and over, doomed escapes are attempted. Drama and the possibility of human variation have both been sacrified to make this poltical statement. The characters are an assortment of Jews plus one Nazi deserter who arrive in Switzerland to be sympathetically treated by a rough couple of innkeepers, but this effort is easily cancelled by the gingerly selfishness of other Swiss and of the Swiss bureaucracy, which refuses, for example, to recognize Jews as a politically persecuted group. The characters are a middle-aged woman whose husband had previously escaped to Switzerland only to be imprisoned there, her wounded brother, the deserter, an elderly man and his grand-daughter, and another child whom nobody knew previously. They momentarily fashion themselves into a family in order to meet the Swiss loopholes about staying, but this scheme is quickly exposed. An epilogue states that each was killed or had disappeared soon after they were expelled from Switzerland, and their Swiss helper was jailed for his efforts, by his own government -- but this is no surprise, as the film has not offered a moment of hope. Tina Engel gives a fierce performance as the chief refugee fighting the inevitable, and Renate Steiger and Mathias Gnaedinger, as the Swiss couple, present a strong picture of morality troubling a natural stolidity. The film has won several international awards, and is Switzerland's entry for the foreign picture catagory of the Academy Awards. It is a devestating indictment of Swiss neutrality, maintained by a smug refusal to recognize the consequences. As the farm couple are told when they make minimal efforts to treat the refugees with common decency, "The heart is often stupid."
THE BOAT IS FULL -- At the Outer Circle.