Western

***1/2

Reviewed by: Rory Ford

Western
"It quite subtly toys with the iconography of the genre - poking at the outlying parts of it, the parts dealing with "foreigness" and "home" rather than the more dependable elements of right and wrong."

Valeska Grisebach's third feature is not simply a western in name only. It quite subtly toys with the iconography of the genre - poking at the outlying parts of it, the parts dealing with "foreigness" and "home" rather than the more dependable elements of right and wrong (which, here, are considerably muddied). “Here" is rural Bulgaria where a group of German migrant workers have set up camp at the outskirts of town as they embark on their next project. The foreman (Reinhardt Wetrek) flies a German flag to make his crew feel at home in their camp (or it could be pure colonialism).

"Haven't you considered the locals?" asks one. "We do nothing else, we're building them a water power plant.”

Copy picture

One of the crew, Meinhardt (Meinhard Neumann), wanders into town of an evening tired of his compatriots' company and begins to develop relationships with the locals. Some of them are glad too see him - unfortunately because the older inhabitants have fond memories of the German occupied forces during the war (”so civilised"); others are more wary.

Taking her cue from Ken Loach by casting actual workers, Grisebach achieves a convincing verisimilitude and unearths a terrific, almost Eastwoodian performance from Neumann, who runs the gamut from guarded avuncularity to wary vulnerability. Thin and as tightly packed as a drifter's roll-up, Meinhardt is a former Legionnaire with no concept of "homesickness". His experience in the foreign legion gives him the skills to tame and ride a local horse bareback (which you just know is going to be a bone of contention later on) and his altruism means that he's soon helping the locals with building projects off the clock (just like a proper cowboy such as Shane would). The town's water supply is rationed and disputed recalling Rango (the archetypal animated Western) while the tension between locals and interlopers has echoes of Straw Dogs (the quintessential English Western).

If this were a classic genre piece Grisebach would end it with a cathartic explosion of violence or at least a neat resolution. Instead, this is modern Europe, there are scuffles, arguments, card games are lost and then winnings partially refunded in the spirit of everybody just getting along. The pace moseys along deliberately but it always holds your interest thanks, in part, to Neumann's performance, his great stone face and penetrating gaze ultimately becoming a stand-in for the audience.

Reviewed on: 14 Apr 2018
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Western packshot
A group of German construction workers on a job in Bulgaria begin to compete for the approval of the locals.

Director: Valeska Grisebach

Writer: Valeska Grisebach

Starring: Meinhard Neumann, Reinhardt Wetrek, Waldemar Zang, Detlef Schaich

Year: 2017

Runtime: 119 minutes

Country: Germany


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