"beautifully shot, making great use of the locations, and performed with great subtlety and necessary warmth by the cast who bring the emotions to the fore"
Opening with a wide shot of something of a drifter walking across an open field and with a title that simply evokes an entire genre, you’d be forgiven for thinking that WESTERN, Valeska Grisebach’s impressive Cannes nominated film slots into that very film type.
However, as things slowly unfold we learn that this tale of a group of German workers sent to a remote Bulgarian outpost to build a hydro-plant is somewhat different, superficially at least, from the world of cowboys and Indians that we’ve come to expect. It’s not that there aren’t any horses, guns or expansive areas of un-touched nature during the two-hour run time, it’s just that they’re sparingly used, woven into the films thematic undertones.
The workers soon consult the Bulgarian ‘natives’ of the land in a nearby village and hostilities gently, gradually start to simmer. There is an obvious motif regarding the German flag which is planted, removed and then re-emerges, fistfights over the local women, hidden pasts regarding fighting in wars, issues with the water supply being rationed and the mining of the land for technology. Central to it all is the language barrier and that the Germans and Bulgarians struggle to communicate really drives home the point.
The traditional western genre were often films set in the past that made a comment about the present and this is no different. At a time when the world, and Europe in particular, feel fractured and divided, the minor elements which divide us here are apparent and make the film feel strikingly relevant.
It is beautifully shot, making great use of the locations, and performed with great subtlety and necessary warmth by the cast who bring the emotions to the fore. As it is not just a film about division. In one tender and emotional scene, two men manage to break down the barrier of language to bring into focus their shared feelings on family, love and death and unite as friends. It’s a standout moment in a memorable film that brings to mind John F. Kennedy’s oft-repeated mantra that we all inhabit the same planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures, and we are all mortal.