"Grounding": A Movie Review

February 19, 2006

I watched the film “Grounding” yesterday. Based on the book “Der Fall der Swissair” (The Downfall of Swissair) , this docu-fiction is still the most watched movie in Switzerland even one month after its release.

I never expected such an almost perfect production from a Swiss moviemaker (Michael Steiner) targeting the limited home market of just 7 million potential spectators. Editor and co-script writer Tobias Fueter told Swissinfo that the film is “a faithful recreation of events leading to the demise of Switzerland’s former national airline, despite utilizing a large dollop of creative license.” And he added that “there is a fear that we could face legal action, but we tried to be as truthful as possible.” I think he did a tremendous job.

Historical news clips and discussion forums were edited as authentical documentation of many juicy details which lead to the bankruptcy of the so-called “flying bank”. Heart breaking stories of two families were plotted into this historical context. It was casted and performed so well that one could actually get convinced that it all happened just that way.

The question arose whether this movie could reveal new evidence on who were the “bad guys” who led to the downfall of this prestigeous national carrier. I was particularly interested in new light shed on the part that UBS played and whether the bank could be blamed for the chaos on this historical October 2, 2001. The portrayal of UBS CEO Marcel Ospel (Gilles Tschudi) as the local endorser of Basel’s airline Crossair in an unfriendly competition against Mario Corti (Hanspeter Müller-Drossaart), Director of the board of Sair Group and CEO of the Zurich based national airline Swissair, was quite delicate but plausible.

The focal point of the movie were the last days of Swissair. At the time, the worst rivals in business, Crossair (in Basel) and Swissair (in Zuerich), were integrated in one group, Sair Group. Corti, in his vision for a merged operation of all flight operations of the group without reducing the fleet, kept trying to strengthen his good terms with the CEO of Crossair, Moritz Suter, László I. Kish. It didn’t work out…

UBS’ Ospel demanded from Corti before 9/11 to sell the profitable companies of non-airline businesses like catering and logistics among many other restructuring (unpopular cuts of jobs) in order to secure liquidity to survive. When Corti repeatedly refused to take his advice which finally included the sale of the group’s stake into Crossair, Ospel changed sides. The FACTS magazine just confirmed that one particular line was spoken exactly from Ospel’s heart. “The whole matter is getting to delicate to handle ( Die Sache wird mir langsam zu heiss)”, he muttered in the movie and in real life. One could get from the plotted meetings in the movie that Corti lost his last chance. So I don’t agree that Ospel was simply the bad guy and Corti the good guy in the movie. (FACTS later commented the memorandum by order of Karl Wüthrich, attorney-at-law and final administrator of Swissair Group, which confirmed exactly this for Corti not flattering fact).

What is a reverse takeover anyway? Can it be fair? How could one expect from a bank to invest in transactions worth billions of Dollars with the pure motive to save Swiss aviation no matter what the cost? That was exactly what the Swiss did expect from the key Swiss banks between 9/11 and grounding date 10/02! “Grounding” shows how, in the last days, Corti made desparate pleas to UBS, Credit Suisse and the Swiss federal government to forward extra cash to keep the wings of the fleet of Swissair up in the air. One could also see how people took to the streets, venting out their anger against the banks.

Now this is what came out so clearly in the movie as the last happenings before the grounding. UBS, in a seeming conspiracy with Suter, managed to force Corti to sell the group’s stake into Crossair . UBS later dictated with a 51% financial stake in the reverse billion Franc takeover deal where the money had to go and obviously didn’t care too much about an “ICU” treatment to keep the ongoing flight schedules of Swissair intact. UBS was out of the struggling group and into Crossair now! When finally cash flew from the pending transactions after legalistic bargaining, it was too late.

Suddenly, everyone demanded cash, after chapter-11-ish “Nachlassstundung” for Sair Group was broadcasted one day before the grounding. The project “Phoenix out of the ashes” revealed itself as such. Swissair was killed in order for Crossair and with it Swiss aviation to survive! But the takeover of Swissair’s long distance flights by the former daughter and freshly capitalized Crossair cost billions of tax money.

By the way: the not very loved “iron face” who presented himself to the media (a few days after the grounding) as the saviour of Swiss aviation, Marcel Ospel, is the only survivor in business up until now. Or is there another one? Matthias Molleney had the task to cut 8000 jobs as the personnel manager. He was later hired for “Grounding” as a consultant to secure the authenticity of board meeting scenes, but he ended up playing himself (See trailer).

It is my wish that everybody gets to see this movie in English who doesn’t speak (Swiss) German or French. Do you agree that there should be an English version for movie houses abroad?

UPDATES:If you understand Swiss German, French or Italian, you may buy the newly released DVD

Der Kinospielfilm GROUNDING – DIE LETZTEN TAGE DER SWISSAIR wird am 18. und 19. Oktober 2007 (20.00 Uhr bzw. 17.30 Uhr) am Filmfestival Münster gezeigt (Schweizerdeutsches Original mit englischen Untertiteln).

Der Film wird im Rahmen des “Europäischen Spielfilmwettbewerbs” gezeigt und ist für die “Beste Regie” nominiert, einem mit 10 000 dotierten Preis.

Good news if you are an English speaker:

The movie GROUNDING – THE LAST DAYS OF SWISSAIR – will be shown at the Filmfestival Munster, Filmfestival Munster (Germany), for the first time with English subtitles, on October 18 and 19, 2007, at 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

The film will be shown in the premises of the European Contest of Feature Films (Europäischer Spielfilmwettbewerb), and has been nominated for “Best Production” (beste Regie).

…ist aber auch für alle anderen im Englischen bewandten Europäern, die mit Schweizerdeutsch, Französich und Italienisch wenig anfangen können, eine gute Nachricht:

Der Kinospielfilm GROUNDING – DIE LETZTEN TAGE DER SWISSAIR wird am 18. und 19. Oktober 2007 (20.00 Uhr bzw. 17.30 Uhr) am Filmfestival Münster gezeigt (Schweizerdeutsches Original mit englischen Untertiteln).

Der Film wird im Rahmen des “Europäischen Spielfilmwettbewerbs” gezeigt und ist für die “Beste Regie” nominiert, einem mit 10 000 dotierten Preis.