(director/writer: Valeska Grisebach; cinematographer: Bernhard Keller; editor: Bettina Böhler; cast: Meinhard Neumann (Meinhard, Reinhardt Wetrek (Vincent), Syuleyman Alilov Letifov (Adrian), Vyara Borisova,(Vyara), Veneta Frangova (Veneta), Kevin Bashev (Wanko); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Maren Ade, Jonas Dornbach, Valeska Grisebach, Janine Jackowski, Michel Merkt; Cinema Guild; 2017-Germany/Bulgaria-in German & Bulgarian with English subtitles)

A sparse drama and not a Western as hinted at in the title.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A sparse drama and not a Western as hinted at in the title, but in a way draws support for its story on the Western iconography, the Western films of John Ford and the geopolitics in Europe. It tells the story of German construction workers who come to a remote rural valley in Bulgaria to build a hydroelectric plant. They represent the West’s superior technical skills over a former backward Eastern Bloc nation. In the observant political film by the talented German director-writer Valeska Grisebach (“Longing”/”Be My Star”), who deftly mingles non-actors with professionals in her intense character study and in her tremendous use of visuals to capture the strange landscape facing the visitors in Bulgaria, where the local population is not only wary of the foreign workers but is even hostile to them at times. The German camp is far from the nearest village. The only worker who makes contact with the locals is the older, loner and former soldier Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann). Even if respecting the locals in his contacts, he spreads a tension to both the workers and hosts who are not ready to get along with each other. Meinhard’s boss is Vincent (Reinhardt Wetrek), who shows contempt for the locals and acts arrogantly due to his privileged status. Things almost explode when he threatens a local woman, Vyara (Vyara Borisova), swimming on the camp grounds during the summer’s heat wave. How the opposing sides avoid a tragic clash becomes the gist of this magnificent minimalist film, as the characters are more perplexing than they seem at first–even Meinhard might not be the simple good guy at first thought of but a more manipulative sort. It’s also shown how it might be more difficult to communicate without a common language between the groups. One of the film’s producers is Maden Ade, who directed Toni Erdmann (2016), a similar film about critiquing relations between Germans living in a Balkan country. Ms. Grisebach was a script consultant on that film.

'Western' Review: A Sharp, Simmering Culture-Clash

REVIEWED ON 4/1/2018 GRADE: A-     https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/