Tuesday, February 20, 2018

“Western” – Movie Review


Recently, I attended the opening night screening of the new foreign drama “Western” at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center.


When a German travels to Bulgaria for construction work, can he cope with the hostility of the locals?


Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann) is so desperate for work that he’s even willing to leave his home in Germany for an assignment in a small rural area of Bulgaria.  There, he will join a team of other men who will spend the next couple of months trying to enhance the town’s infrastructure by building a hydro-electric foundation that will, in time, improve the life of everyone in the vicinity.  That is, if they are able to complete the project.  It seems that the residents aren’t too keen on having a bunch of Germans come in to perform this work, no matter how much better off they will be as a result.

Seeing this, Meinhard makes an effort to befriend the locals, which does not go over terribly well with the project’s foreman, who takes a more antagonistic view toward these people and goes out of his way to make enemies rather than ingratiating himself.  One thing that turns off the townspeople to these workers is when the foreman winds up harassing some of their young women.  While he may think he’s flirting, he instead comes off as intimidating and threatening, causing everyone to be wary of this group of German construction workers who may be there to make trouble.

Meinhard’s own background, however, remains something of a mystery.  Generally a reserved and quiet type, he is believed to have a background as a solder in Iraq.  While this impresses some of the crew, others are skeptical and they ostracize him.  Eventually, his attempts to befriend the residents pays off as he unexpectedly bonds with one of the town’s leaders and manages to attract a young woman who is the daughter of one of the townspeople that has been brought in to translate between the two groups.  But will the Germans be able to finish their work or will the Bulgarians drive them out before the project can be completed?


In many ways, “Western” is deeply relevant to Trump’s America because it shows a form of nationalism that can tend to poison a culture.  The Bulgarians are resentful of these Germans who come in to perform work that they themselves are ill-suited to do on their own because they lack the expertise in this particular area.  Yet they do need the Germans, just as the Germans need the Bulgarians for the work itself.  For this reason alone, it is a sensational idea.  The execution, however, is something else altogether.  Its two hour running time seems to drag along.

At its essence, “Western” is an episodic tale rather than a narrative; the problem with this is that these sort of slice-of-life movies feel very much like a documentary in the sense that there is very little if any dramatic momentum that thrusts the story forward.  As a result, one gets the sense while watching “Western” that you are just meandering.  The filmmakers give you the feeling that they have no particular place to go and aren’t in any kind of a hurry to get there, either.  Instead, you are left with scenes of watching a slender man smoking, drinking and occasionally either fighting or bonding with other men.

It is disappointing because “Western” could have been so much more.  Not just a timely political fable, but one that could have had the capability to respond to the current climate where men are generally being made out to be inhuman and unfeeling.  There is precious little in this film that gives you the sense that men are bonding with each other and if you are looking for anything remotely resembling a romance, well, good luck with that.  Ultimately, this rudderless movie will have you going around in circles with one of those non-ending endings that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. 

Western (2017) on IMDb

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