Foreign Film Friday: Western review - Wild West is transported to Bulgaria in this absorbing drama
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Western’s smack-in-the-face title teases a parallel with the classic American Western, and writer-director Valeska Grisebach ostensibly makes good on her promise. The film sees heroes in distant lands seeking adventure and riches, as they embark on a modernising project that ignites conflict with the ‘natives’. Gambling, corruption and revenge all feature. There’s even a loyal horse. Except the setting isn’t the Wild West of old, but rather modern-day Bulgaria, and its pseudo-colonialists aren’t cowboys but German construction workers. As much as Western is a genre homage, Grisebach’s subtlely powerful film is also exploring what it means to be ‘Western’ in a divided Europe. The Germans have been commissioned to build a hydroelectric plant in a secluded, mountainous area near the Greek border. Soon, constantly lacking water and supplies of gravel, the project stalls, and the workers have nothing much to do but lounge around in the summer sun at their makeshift fort, which overlooks the region’s striking terrain. Bored by his hyper-masculine compatriots, our moustachioed hero-of-sorts Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann) finds a white horse and rides into the nearby village. There he befriends Adrian (Syuleyman Alilov Letifov), the owner of the horse and the area’s de facto leader. Back at camp, headstrong project manager Vincent (Reinhardt Wetrek) flirts aggressively with local woman Vyara (Viara Borisova) – a misguided move that ignites tension between villagers and visitors. The resulting competition of masculinity makes for much of the drama in Western. Between the German and Bulgarian men, this primarily plays out in economic terms, whether that be a game of poker or the construction project itself. There’s a sense the Germans see their trip as a colonial civilising mission – at the very least, Vincent’s talk of ‘building infrastructure’ has a patronising ring to it – and the former Eastern Bloc inhabitants are more than a little distrustful of their temporary Western neighbours.
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