$12 General Admission
One of the breakout films of last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Western represents a keenly observed, immediate experience. The third film from director Valeska Grisebach, it centers upon Meinhard (a stunning, rugged performance from non-actor Meinhard Neumann), a German construction worker preparing a dam in Bulgaria, and his uneasy allegiance to both his fellow workers and the people of a nearby village. All the while, tensions involving harassment, overtly nationalistic gestures, and above all water usage threaten to boil over at any moment.
Western is less an homage to the thoroughly American genre that gives it its title and driving purpose than an interrogation, using the generic iconography (the horse, the gun) in entirely unexpected and yet resonant ways. Grisebach (who hails from the same Berlin School filmmaking movement that produced such now-praised directors as Christian Petzold, Angela Schanelec, Maren Ade) utilizes using a strictly vérité approach that gives way to startling, destabilizing edits that constantly reframe the viewer’s point of view. Dealing in notions of language and culture struggles, it operates with an unfettered naturalism, moving with a disarmingly quotidian pace that belies its complexity.
“The possibility of violence buzzes in the air like insects in the summer heat.” – A.O. Scott, New York Times
“Permitting all these tightly knotted tensions to reveal themselves at leisure, Grisebach keeps her filmmaking low-key and exactingly measured, resisting any startling formal coups. Which isn’t to undervalue the crisp precision of Bernhard Keller’s lensing, which directly doffs its cap to John Ford in certain serenely composed frames, and gradually identifies in the grassy, bucolic Bulgarian landscape all the sparse, atmospheric menace of the most parched Wild West frontier.” – Guy Lodge, Variety
All images courtesy of Cinema Guild.