Director: Valeska Grisebach
Starring: Meinhard Neumann, Reinhardt Wetrek, Syuleyman Alilov Letifov
Length: 1hr 59m
This review comes from the Leeds International Film Festival 2017.
Western is a Bulgarian-set slow-burner depicting a group of German construction workers as they get to grips with their new environment and the locals around them. It deals with themes of belonging and communication, and centres around Meinhard, a hardworking newcomer to the construction group. From the beginning, it is obvious that he is different to the other German workers (an outsider to the outsiders if you will) and we follow his story as he interacts with the locals and shows genuine interest in their lives.
The narrative ebbs and flows in a lilting fashion; there is an underlying tension behind everything that happens, as issues of land ownership and national pride bubble to the surface, and the insider/outsider dynamics threaten to explode into violence at any moment. Its aesthetic is very naturalistic, indeed at times it feels like a documentary, and this is due primarily to the excellent performances from the ensemble cast and the well-written characters with believable actions and intentions. Meinhard Neumann (who plays the lead) is the absolute stand out, whose facial expressions and body language convey his character’s stoicism mixed with hopefulness to a tee.
The film also offers a lengthy discussion of communication and in what ways understanding between two parties can be realised. As the audience we are afforded omniscience in our understanding of everything that each character says (whether in German or Bulgarian), yet it is unclear how much is understood by each character. The finale also adds to this discussion, particularly in thinking about cross-cultural non-verbal communication, and it leaves us as omniscient audience to ponder and question what exactly has just been communicated to us throughout the entire film.
Overall Western is an excellent film. It may be too slow for some, but it is rich with themes which are explored in depth and Grisebach displays fantastic control of her craft; posing questions to the audience through simple direction and lyrical storytelling.