In Review: Western
Director: Valeska Grisebach
Set on the Bulgarian/Greek border, against the backdrop of economic instability in a small, remote village, we have Western, a naturalistic and gritty drama written, directed and produced by Valeska Grisebach.
Although there is a construction to the narrative, Grisebach has said herself that this film is more about the subtext. The story takes shape when a group of German construction workers are placed close to a Bulgarian village in order to build a power station. Their presence is soon felt by the nearby locals, and as they attempt to keep the project from juddering to a halt (a lack of water to make concrete being a pivotal issue), they eventually cross others who know the land well and have the potential to provide the resources they need.
Grisebach employed a group of unknown actors in order to add authenticity to the film. The lead, Meinhard Neumann, was seen at a horse market near Berlin. He has the look of a classic western actor: weathered and solemn, with a mysterious past that gives him a certain edge and unpredictability. It’s seriously impressive how well the first time actors carry the film, their performances are nuanced and understated, with one scene between two of the male characters discussing the death of a family member being superbly played.
Grisebach steers clear of creating definitive sides between the two nationalities. There are times where the Germans are made to feel unwelcome, and there are others when they are welcomed into the homes of the locals, playing cards with them and dancing together at village gatherings. In fact, the most interesting dynamic is between Meinhard (Neumann) and his macho, pigeon-chested boss, Vincent (a brilliant Reinhardt Wetrek). This is where the standoff that is alluded to in the film’s title lies. Both men wear work belts, resembling Eastwood-esque gun holsters, and use a horse to navigate the hilly terrain. A power play ensues as they stare each other down and, in their own contrasting styles, navigate the hesitant locals.
Although there is a distinct and ever-present tension that gnaws away throughout the film, it’s slow-burning and the pace won’t be for everyone’s taste - it certainly feels longer than its 100 minutes running time. Having said that, sticking with it makes for a rewarding experience. TS