A group of German construction workers start a tough job at a remote site in the Bulgarian countryside. The foreign land awakens the men's sense of adventure, but they are also confronted ...
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1998, Nalchik. A Jewish family is in trouble: the youngest son and his bride do not come home, and in the morning, a ransom note arrives. The ransom is so high that the family is forced not... See full summary »
The married Bongwan leaves home in the dark morning and sets off to work. The memories of the woman who left weigh down on him. That day Bongwan's wife finds a love note, bursts into the office, and mistakes Areum for the woman who left.
Aryan is a Syrian refugee trying to make his way into Hungary from Serbia, along with his father and many other wretched souls. They are all caught, and find themselves in a web of cynicism and corruption.
A group of German construction workers start a tough job at a remote site in the Bulgarian countryside. The foreign land awakens the men's sense of adventure, but they are also confronted with their own prejudice and mistrust due to the language barrier and cultural differences. The stage is quickly set for a showdown when men begin to compete for recognition and favor from the local villagers.
"Western" is a new movie that has managed a pretty strong deal of awards recognition already, not just at the Cannes Film Festival. It is a co-production between Germany, Bulgaria and Austria. The writer and director is Valeska Grisebach and she recently made the headlines as she was a script consultant on the Oscar-nominated Toni Erdmann. But while she worked in that position on other films too, she also wrote and directed before. This is over a decade ago already and I have seen her previous work "Sehnsucht" and liked it too. Her style is easily recognizable. I can only talk about that film and this one here, but there is something very bleak to her works and the characters are like you and me basically, really normal guys that make decisions that have a massive impact on their lives. Be it cheating or, like in this one here, the decision to leave Germany (temporarily) for Bulgaria and accept the offer as a construction worker abroad.
This is the central character and while he manages to get along with the locals really nicely, there is also a strong opposite of that, a man who kills one of the locals' horses, gets in trouble with a local woman, turns off a local well etc. These are the two men in the center of it all on the German side. And if I see it correctly, then none of the actors had any acting experience before, which also adds to Grisebach's Everyday Joe approach. I cannot really say anything about the Bulgarian actors really as I don't know any of them. Gonna leave that to the Bulgarians. One of the key aspects here is testosterone as really all men, all German men, in here except the protagonist really want to show their masculinity to everybody and funnily enough the central character is eventually the one who gets the hot girl. It's especially interesting that a female writer came up with this very male-centered story. It's like tables turned on Detlev Buck writing teenage chick flicks à la Bibi und Tina.
But back to this one here. We have several scenes when we see the protagonist getting assaulted. And he says on one occasion that he is not one for fighting. Then interestingly enough if we ignore the knife scene in the water, the only real moment when he does get aggressive (too much actually) and pulls a gun is when his new friend gets attacked. So he sure is a very loyal guy and may put the good of those dear to him above his own happiness. On a similar note, the component of violence increases the longer the film goes. Early on we have a scene when a guy presses a girl playfully under water. Next up a scene when a man accidentally injures a kid. Then there is a scene with a pulled knife. Then there is a scene with a terribly injured horse suffering a lot before it finally gets put out of its misery. Then there is the pulled gun scene I mentioned before. And there are more examples. These scenes let me think that Grisebach will end the film on a really violent note with the protagonist either killing somebody or getting killed himself. There were really enough possibilities as he kept antagonizing people too. But this is where Grisebach returns to her standards unspectacular approach and the film just ends with a dance scene that shows us the central character for once not distant or on his own, but instead joining the townsfolk. This also underlines the comment by the protagonist's friend at some point that what happened, also (or especially) the violent stuff, is just not too uncommon for the Bulgarian countryside. It's a rough area with even rougher people.
All in all, Grisebach proves with her work that she is certainly among Germany's finest female filmmakers/writers looking at how well she understands the male psyche and it's at least on the same level as Doris Dörrie's films centering around men. Grisebach shouldn't be sad that another film got picked representing Germany at the upcoming Oscars I think, maybe because this one here had too much Bulgarian instead of German dialogue to it. This is also a very interesting film as we have so much about the subject of immigrants coming to Germany these days, so here we see how it's done the other way around. How it should be done. It's a really long film at pretty much exactly 2 hours, but maybe with the slightly too long introduction in the first 20 minutes, this is a film that never drags for a bit and I was genuinely curious what would happen next to the central characters and how their stories would continue. Grisebach proves that you don't need experienced big-name actors if you have a smart script and manage to make it an atmospheric watch. Of course, this doesn't mean any of the actors were bad. On the contrary, they all felt very real and authentic in their approaches. Finally, the tone and style will turn this into a film that is definitely not for everybody. But if you manage to find an emotional access to the story and an interest in the characters, then you will be greatly rewarded. There were moments when I considered giving the movie an even higher rating. It's really difficult to find something wrong with the film. I initially did not like the title too much, but the more I think about it the more this makes sense too as it is a bit of a western, even if it is set in Eastern Europe. There is a dry prairie-like area, there's guns and knives, there's lone wolf characters, strong alpha males and a lot of conflict that may or may not be solved in a violent fashion. I absolutely recommend the watch here. Without a doubt one of Germany's (and Bulgaria's) finest from 2017.
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