In Valeska Griesebach’s laconic “western”, the frontier lies in the east, in Bulgaria, and the cowboys are a troupe of taciturn construction workers who are meant to build a small hydro station in the summer heat.
Meinhard enters the screen with a plastic bag in his hand instead of a saddle, he ambles across a soccer field instead of a prairie, but Valeska Griesebach’s WESTERN is a real western with horses, weapons, strangers in the city, dangerous poker games, and real wilderness on the border between Bulgaria and Greece. A Berliner construction troupe are supposed to build a hydroelectric power plant, but they’re missing materials and even drinking water so they aren’t able to get to work.
The men mostly hang around under the supervision of foreman Vincent and talk their days away. Vincent has already managed to harass a Bulgarian woman and offended the local men’s honor before they even encountered the local villagers. The encounters afterwards are characterized by mutual distrust. Tension between Vincent and mysterious newbie Meinhard rises, who is the only one trying to get in touch with the villagers and finds a friend in Bulgarian Adrian. The Germans fantasize about shooting in all directions, and guns are indeed shot later, but not in expected ways.
Valeska Griesebach used non-professional actors and an unfinished screenplay like she always does. The construction workers really are construction workers and the Bulgarian villagers really do live in the area. The intensity of their acting is tremendous, especially Meinhard Neumann who appears like the legitimate successor of a classic western hero. His slim, tall, wiry frame and his jerky walk is reminiscent of Gary Cooper and the older James Stewart: a man in his late 40s who has been through a lot and is very aware of himself. When he says that he was once a “legionnaire”, the Bulgarians aren’t the only ones who believe him. Reinhard Vertrek, his adversary Vincent, is younger, more robust, and is under more pressure which doesn’t just show in his lower jaw and his ever more distressed looking face.
Griesebach is in perfect command of her craft. The dialogue, which came together while working with the actors, is both funny and absolutely convincing. This is exactly what it sounds like when bored men verbally spar with each other. She also found visual imagery that takes the western analogy seriously without being ironic or going too far. She and her cinematographer Bernhard Keller manage to capture magnificent images. Encounters with the foreign, different types of darkness, feeling superior, playing a role - in the end it turns out that everyone is far more ambivalent than it first seemed. WESTERN is one of the best German films of the year.
Translation: Elinor Lewy
Deutschland/Österreich/Bulgarien 2017, 121 min
Director: Valeska Grisebach
Author: Valeska Grisebach
DOP: Bernhard Keller
Montage: Bettina Böhler
Distributor: Piffl Medien
Cast: Meinhard Neumann, Reinhardt Wetrek, Syuleyman Alilov Letifov, Veneta Frangipova
- OV Original version
- OmU Original with German subtitles
- OmeU Original with English subtitles
ALLE ANGABEN OHNE GEWÄHR.
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