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Builds suspense through silences
howard.schumann15 October 2017
Like a lonely, mysterious gunslinger from the Old West, a tall, slender rugged-looking man with a thick mustache comes to a small Bulgarian village near the Grecian border as part of a German work crew in Valeska Grisebach's ("Longing") Western. The man is Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann), in Bulgaria to work on a hydroelectric power station close to the village. He could be Alan Ladd or John Wayne, transported across miles and years to Eastern Europe to conquer the natives, except here the natives are family-oriented local residents who do not carry tomahawks. Alienated by their unfamiliar surroundings, the workers hang the German flag in their camp and mock the local residents whose language they do not understand.

One says, "Everything's messed up here. It's just like traveling through time, going back to the past." Grisebach says that, "It's very interesting when you have the chance to have empathy, but you instead have contempt, or a conflict, instead of identifying yourself with the other one." We can sense that a clash of cultures is inevitable, but we do not know in what direction it will go. Remembering the German occupation of their country during the war, the townspeople themselves are not eager to offer any welcome. Grisebach contrasts the uber-masculine posturing of the construction workers at the camp with the warm family gatherings in the town. With no musical score, the film builds suspense through silences and facial expressions that tell us what words cannot.

Meinhard is treated with disdain by the work crew boss Vincent (Reinhardt Wetrek), who exacerbates tension with the locals by flirting with a young woman out for a swim, an incident that borders on harassment. Though he claims that he is only there for the money, Meinhard is the only worker who makes an effort to bridge the divide with the locals. Finding himself alone on a country road, he hitches a ride with some villagers and begins a friendship with Adrian (Syuleyman Alilov Letifov), one of the locals. In conversation, Meinhard claims to be a member of the Foreign Legion with service in Afghanistan and Africa which they accept without question. While on a drive in the countryside with Adrian, Meinhard tells him that this is "Paradise," to which Adrian replies in Bulgarian, "We understand each other." It is never clear, however, what is really understood and what is not. Despite the growing closeness of the relationship between Meinhard and the locals, the difficulty in communicating adds to the tension which threatens on several occasions to spill over into violence. There is a dispute about water rights which the crew needs to mix the gravel, a confrontation after a poker game in which Meinhard wins too much money, and an incident when he gets in the middle of a dispute with mafia-like authorities. At one point, after being knocked to the ground, Meinhard asserts that "Violence is not my thing," though, when asked about the planet, he offers his opinion that it is only the strong who survive.

Grisebach keeps our attention by drawing on anecdotal threads that complement the narrative. A white horse, whose custody is a matter of dispute, is injured when Vincent leads him to a mountain he cannot navigate; Wanko (Kevin Bashev), a young boy whose parents are in Greece to find work, is temporarily knocked unconscious when he hits Meinhard falling from a truck. Grisebach expresses her reliance on narrative spinoffs this way, "It's really to find how you have this little plot point or a little suspenseful moment," she says, "and then you create space, more space for atmosphere." There is plenty of atmosphere in Western, but where it is headed and indeed what it is about is a guessing game throughout. The film's well-drawn characters and naturalistic look and feel keep us engaged, however, until it erupts in a dance of humanity and one man's dream of a life filled with the simplicity of friendship and brotherhood.
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Vulnerable Hero Venturing Across the Frontier Divide
Raven-196922 October 2017
On the frontier there is always someone who ventures beyond their companions in understanding and empathy for different cultures. A group of German construction workers in the Bulgarian countryside encounters difficulties with the locals and the foreign terrain. Tensions escalate from miscommunication, misuse of resources, corruption, selfishness, nationalism, arrogance and more. Meinhard, one of the Germans, becomes increasingly amiable with the locals. He attempts to understand their culture and ways, shares his knowledge, teaches a kid to ride a horse, helps with little tasks and drinks rakia (local liquor) late into the night with his new companions. Many among the Germans and Bulgarians do not like this. Even as Meinhard discovers solutions to difficulties and benefits to getting along, there are those in the shadows who want the divisions to remain and who believe that unless you eat, you will be eaten.

A compelling, wonderful and classical story of a vulnerable dreamer who dares to drift across the divide. The director maintained in the question and answer session after the film, that she places emphasis on what is going on inside the characters rather than any ultimate showdown. It is good that she does this, as it is truer to life. It allows the audience (me) to better identify with the characters. Non-professional actors were used in all the roles and the gamble worked, because the film felt more authentic this way. The director also maintained that she was not a micro-manager. She gave the actors space and the trust provided dividends. It makes me wonder why anyone, filmmaker or not, insists upon complete control. In advance of making the film, Grisebach lived in and learned about the area and its people, which turned out to be another good habit on her part. There were some beautiful shots of the landscape, and I wish there were more. Also, I wish there was a little more depth to the dialogue. Un Certain Regard (uncertain regard?) at Cannes. Seen at the Toronto International Film Festival.
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No Cowboys Here, Just Uptight Europeans
ockiemilkwood2 September 2018
Watch the DVD extra interview with the German director, Grisebach. She says she grew up in W Berlin watching American westerns on TV and that this movie originates from that experience. Sorry, she's hallucinating. There's nothing here that remotely resembles an American "western" (her references: Ford and Mann). The title of this film, "Western," is thus jive.

Like a post-modern, identity politics drone she talks about the "closed-off masculinity" of westerns. She talks of interviewing American construction workers and finding some connection between their "closed-off masculinity" and that of western heroes; I worked construction after college and can attest hers is elitist identity politics, fear & loathing of healthy male heterosexuality, what her brain-washed ilk spurn as "toxic masculinity." Sad: politically correct fascists like her have lost connection to common sense and the ground.

Despite this, fortunately, this film grinds out a slow-paced, compelling drama of distinctly European (not "western") tensions: Germany vs. everyone (Germany both as past Nazi invader and present economic boss), prosperous west vs. poor east Europe, and obnoxious urban industrial workers vs. pure, rural bumpkins. The unspoken issue is the identity of Europe in the face of immigrant invasion. The protagonist, an outsider who sports a thick "Western" mustache, bridges the gap between his peers, pig German construction workers, and humble, timeless Bulgarian villagers (and is attacked by both). The key moment, the "truth" of this film, occurs when a Bulgarian asks this wandering stranger what he's looking for.

Yes, the movie could have been shortened by 10-20 minutes. Yes, it could have benefited from closer integration of its theme, instead of meandering. Still, despite this, characters live and breathe, the details are right, and it held my rapt attention from beginning to end.
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Quiet and Cerebral Film is Definitely Not For Those Seeking an Action Flick
larrys329 August 2018
German filmmaker Valeska Grisebach successfully uses non-professional actors in this very methodically paced film, which will probably only appeal to a certain slice of cinephiles.

A group of German construction workers are dispatched to rural Bulgaria to construct a water power plant. The atmospherics here are extremely realistic, as the two cultures try and co-exist despite not being able to communicate effectively, except with the occasional translator.

At times, they'll be amicable relations but there can also be times that are tension filled and threatening. There's also tension within the construction workers themselves, especially between the new mysterious worker (Meinhard Neumann) and the aggressive foreman (Reinhardt Wetrek).

Overall, definitely not for those seeking any kind of an action flick. But for those viewers that have the patience to get into a quiet, cerebral and character driven film, there are rewards here to be found.
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Bulgaria is south and east of Germany
Red-12516 March 2018
Western (2017) is a German film written and directed by Valeska Grisebach. The title is symbolic, in the sense that, for Germans, Bulgaria is like our "Wild West."

A group of German workers come to Bulgaria for a construction project. It's in a remote rural area, so there's not much opportunity to mix with the Bulgarians. However, one worker, Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann) goes into town and begins to meet the local people, and even to try to learn Bulgarian.

Meinhard makes friends, and obtains the use of a horse. (The horse turns out to be a key plot element.)

The basic outline of the plot isn't unique, but the way it plays out is interesting and unpredictable.

We saw this movie at the wonderful Dryden Theatre in Rochester's George Eastman Museum. It will work well enough on the small screen. It's not a masterpiece, but it's definitely worth seeing.

P.S. The Dryden staffer who introduced the movie pointed out that the language barrier is immense. (German and Bulgarian come from Germanic and Slavic roots, respectively.) We, the audience, get English subtitles whether the speaker is German or Bulgarian. We know what's happening, but often the persons involved do not.
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Admire the Effort
westsideschl5 November 2018
OK, the writer/director deserves Kudos for trying to bring the classical American Western movie hero (e.g. Winchester '73; The Gunfighter) portrayal to contemporary Europe. European, especially German, fascination w/this genre has been around for decades. Plot: German construction workers are building a small dam in Bulgaria near the Greek border. For some reason they didn't bring a translator (not realistic, dumb script error) so communication is a problem w/the local rural population. Some locals also have some historic mistrust, post war remembrance, of Germany. Since they're mostly isolated its mostly beers and male cocky, posturing, showing off style toughness. That's about all we see which gets boring quickly. A surprisingly well tamed horse is found roaming free and becomes a focal point between some of the workers and locals. First time acting for many, but wasn't a demanding script. I think the plot theme was to make contemporary the stereotypical Western's male quiet, laid back, hero warrior. Anyway, difficult to follow. Suggest, if interested in this story concept, watch "The Dark Valley".
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Really bleak and really good
Horst_In_Translation25 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
"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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German Western
evanston_dad17 January 2019
Despite director Valeska Grisebach's claims that her film, "Western," is inspired by the popular American film genre, the title refers more to cultural differences between western and eastern Europe than it does traditional cowboys and indians. Indeed, on the surface nothing resembling a traditional movie western is to be found in this film, aside from macho posturing and men trying to assert their authority over one another. But then again, I imagine that's Grisebach's point of inspiration, as that's largely what American westerns are all about.

In "Western," a group of German workers is assigned to a construction project in a remote area of Bulgaria, and the film mostly follows one of them, Meinhard, a sort of odd man out, as he sours on the companionship of his fellow workers and instead befriends a nearby Bulgarian village. Meinhard has a violent past, having formerly been a legionnaire (he refuses to answer when one of the men asks if he's ever killed someone), and the whole movie consists mostly of waiting to see if and when Meinhard will explode as tensions between the Germans and Bulgarians mount.

Grisebach has said that she wanted her movie to explore themes of toxic masculinity, a goal that some have applauded while others have derided. I think her point is that in a traditional western movie, the quiet and stoic hero (Meinhard) would only let himself be pushed so far before he asserted his power and authority over the other men, usually through controlled but violent means. But that idea of the alpha male is becoming more and more antiquated, and this film seems to suggest that perhaps the manliest thing one can do is choose to walk away from male bluster and instead join the camp of inclusivity and understanding.

"Western" is full of men being aggressive to greater and lesser degrees -- to women, to each other -- yet it's Meinhard, the one who decides at the film's end to dance at a village celebration rather than mete out the revenge he so clearly wants to take, who emerges as the character with the most strength.

Grade: A
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Anti Hollywood
lars-4275 October 2018
Strange movie, I was well entertained as the movie went forward. I had an expectation of a greater conflict warming up. The conflict never came, in fact, nothing really happend. The location, the actors are just so anti-hollywood that I still felt entertained. Do not expect any climax of any kind, just enjoy Meinhard - the "dangerous" legionary and a view into a Romanian village, far far away.
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Glacially slow to start... and never really picks up the pace
george-84113 November 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I'm a sucker for realistic movies set in foreign locales so that's why I gave this 4 stars. It has that much going for it. But the story is ponderously slow and the language barriers between the Germans and Bulgarians really cripples the development of a story. Like others have asked, why didn't the German construction company send a translator, especially after it's discovered there might be a problem requiring tapping the water supply feeding 3 local villages? How about a phrase book or translation dictionary? Something! You got a crew of workmen unable to continue their tasks because of a water problem and it might help to resolve it if your crew could communicate even minimally with the locals.

Not sure of the era but couldn't they call someone who can translate or even have brought along a German-Bulgarian dictionary? I feel that the inability to communicate is essential to the story so no effort is made to assist the characters in communicating. I mean, these aren't aliens from different planets. There are ways to communicate with those who speak another earthly language!

Do Bulgarians really dislike Germans so much? Some have posted here that Germany "occupied" Bulgaria in WW2 but my understanding is they were allies (or at least co-belligerents) and other than maybe some German troops defending a German base set in Bulgaria during the war I don't think the Germans "occupied" Bulgaria like they did Poland and many other subjugated European countries. I'm not sure here and I'd love to hear a native of the country enlighten us. I guess this might also depend on WHEN this movie is supposed to be set. It's not clear to me what era we're looking at. I'm trying to recall if I ever saw any cell phones...

It's odd that at times (when the glacially-paced plot absolutely requires it to advance) the Germans seem to understand something a Bulgarian is saying, even when the amateur sign language used still appears totally inadequate. It's like the idea that if someone doesn't understand your language, repeat LOUDER and they'll get it! Only here they don't really speak any louder... the dialogue is usually very soft-spoken. They just repeat the same word multiple times and "eureka!" the other side gets it. Watch it and you will see what I mean. More realistic would have been for someone to find an old heavily-thumbed translation dictionary! Or introduce a village elder who knows a smattering of German from wartime days. (I figured that was happening when the toothless old grandma makes an appearance at a dinner but no such luck.)

The "hero" Meinhard casts vague echos of Clint Eastwood's "Man with No Name" but that's about as close as this gets to being a "Western." (Quiet, tall, thin, brooding, smokes a lot, doesn't really get along with others, man of few words, drinks, likes horses, etc.) Other than that, I really don't understand the title. IMO this is NOT a "western" even in the most loosely metaphoric use of the term. One white horse does not make a western!

Honestly, it's so slow. I stopped watching with about 20 minutes to go and came here to find out if I missed anything in the last bit. Um.. doesn't look like it. I mean, I'm not looking for a machine gun battle, or even a bloody knife fight but "something" please! Does the project continue? Does someone find a phrase book? Do they unite their efforts and dig a well? Does the horse get a saddle? Something!?

(Re the horse: notice how the hero kind of steals the horse from the thin teenage kid. I mean the kid is riding it when Meinhard first encounters it and he grabs the bridle and forces the kid off. It's not clear at this point that the horse is "free" to anyone and it looks later like it belongs to one of the locals. Even Eastwood didn't rustle horses from innocent kids! The horse being white and all is probably a metaphor for something but I hesitate to guess.)

This movie does do a good job showing the essential dullness of life sometimes. But I watch movies to escape a bit from real life for an hour or two and this movie doesn't do it---for me, at least. YMMV. If you love art-housey type movies that would never go over in suburban theaters, then this may well be YOUR cup of tea.
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stranger in a strange land
cdcrb27 February 2018
Warning: Spoilers
A group of german construction workers in Bulgaria are building a ladder and sluice in a river. supplies and water are not forthcoming. one man, meinhard, gets friendly with local villagers . he seems to surmount the language barrier pretty quickly, but problems arise. the germans and Bulgarians don't trust or understand each other. and the atmosphere is very confrontational. meinhard gets beaten up several times, yet still goes back to the village to this new "friends". I really didn't understand the movie. meinhard's actions don't make sense. anyway it's very tense. that's for sure. the movie certainly seems real.
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cinema is art.
Braveheart6721 September 2018
This film is proof that cinema is art. If you are watching to think about movies. Made for you exactly. I would recommend.
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