Western (12A) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Valeska Grisebach, Germany, 2017, 121 mins

Cast: Meinhard Neumann, Reinhardt Wetrek, Syuleyman Alilov Letifov, Veneta Fragnova, Viara Borisova, Kevin Bashev

Review by Colin Dibben

With its warm-hearted hearted message but stoical and lugubrious style, this film works hard and well to reinvent the western (in contemporary, rural Bulgaria!). It’s a lovely mood piece, which reins in the inevitable showdown nicely too.

Meinhard (Neumann) is part of a German crew building a small dam in the middle of nowhere, Bulgaria. He’s a strong, quiet type who likes to roll his own smokes and ride a white horse into the local town. There’s tension with the locals over women and the water supply, but Neumann’s quiet good manners quickly win over Adrian (Letifov) one of the town’s head honchos.

As their work grinds to a halt, some of the macho types in the crew start to feel bored and restless. How long will the peace between outsiders and locals last?

Writer-director Grisebach presents a rather restrained account of only slightly toxic masculinity – the film is very much anchored by the wiry Neumann’s hypnotising physical performance. Letifov is also rather good: events, and perhaps his face too, initially present him as a sinister figure; but his growing friendship with Meinhard is one of the few empathic hooks here.

Grisebach suggests that under his stoical exterior, Meinhard has simple but intense emotional needs: to fit in and belong. That’s a comforting message, even if events here aren’t at all happy.

The entire film is as intense and quiet as a hot summer night in middle Europe, and lovely to experience for just that reason.

Western is out on 13 April 2018.