SHOULD I SEE IT?
Fans of international cinema will likely be interested by this slow-burn of a drama about societal tensions escalating between Germans and Bulgarians.
Featuring non-professional actors, director Valeska Grisebach has found some captivating actors to fill her ensemble.
Paced like an old western film, the tempo of the film is unique and cinephiles will appreciate that.
I cannot think of someone to recommend this to, beyond those who would otherwise be aware of the film playing in select cities around the country.
Insightful in detailing tensions between neighboring countries, this movie is not going to speak to a lot of non-Eastern European viewers. This is not a "date night" movie for most people.
If someone watches this and questions what the point of this all happened to be, I think it's a fair criticism.
One of the Academy Award nominated films for Best Foreign Language Film from this past year, Lebanon's The Insult, looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the construct of a trial setting. A disagreement brings to light prejudices, misunderstandings, and pent up emotion that is cleverly written into the framework of a courtroom drama.
The Insult takes a novel approach to investigating percolating tensions between unsettled groups of people. In Valeska Grisebach’s third film, Western, German laborers are sent into Bulgaria to work on the construction of a hydroelectric plant. Set to work near the border of Greece, the workers are a motley crew of individuals – some who know one another and others who don’t.
Our gaze becomes set on Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann), a sinewy, long-limbed, thin, quiet man who observes much of what’s around him, smokes a handful of cigarettes, and feels on edge most of the time. Grisebach’s slow burning drama gives us ample time to see Meinhard and those around him, attempt to bond and come together as a unit, in a place they are unfamiliar with, the language and culture surrounding them different than anything they’ve ever known.
With everyone awkwardly trying to get settled for a few days, it is the curious appearance of a horse, which picks things up considerably. Wild, with seemingly no one around to claim it, Meinhard ends up making a connection to the horse and being fiercely protective of it.
Western has been described as a European version of an Americanized western, and with Meinhard's brooding, contemplative presence, you can see the similarities. He is not too far removed from a boot-wearing, denim clad cowboy kicking at the dirt, riding horses, dispatching bad guys, and rabble rousing a bunch.
And even if one can see Meinhard in that capacity, this...is not that.
Grisebach's film ticks like a metronome and for viewers who appreciate urgency in storytelling, the movie is uncompromising in maintaining a methodical gait.
Meinhard builds relationships in his own inimitable way. Though he speaks a different language, he finds kinship with Adrien (Syuleyman Alilov Letifov), and his nephew Wanko (Kevin Bashev). He quietly tries to assimilate into the culture around him, while other colleagues struggle to do so. Routinely, we see an arrogance of entitlement, the harassment of women, and a leveraging of “other” which never quite sits well with Meinhard or those domiciled to the area.
Lensed beautifully by Bernhard Keller, Western is stubborn, proud, and confident in the story its telling and, as a result, the movie is going to frustrate some viewers with a deliberate, uncompromising tempo. Largely cast with non-professional actors, there is a lack of polish to the performances which not only heightens realism, but also makes the performances a bit rough around the edges.
Western is an acquired taste. What you’ll find, if you allow it the chance to work through its steps, is a film that proves curious, offers fascinating insight, and reminds us that we share more in common than we realize. And a little understanding, kindness, and respect can still speak louder than any brash outsider's hubris ever could.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Meinhard Neumann, Reinhardt Wetrek, Syuleyman Alilov Letifov, Kevin Bashev, Veneta Fragnova, Vyara Borisova.
Director: Valeska Grisebach
Written by: Valeska Grisebach
Release Date: February 16, 2018
The Cinema Guild