(Valeska Grisebach)

Meinhard Neumann in a scene from Valeska Grisebach's  Western  {Photo: CINEMA GUILD}

Meinhard Neumann in a scene from Valeska Grisebach's Western {Photo: CINEMA GUILD}

Western screens at the AMC River East 21 on Saturday, October 21 at 1:30PM and Sunday, October 22 at 8:15PM. For additional ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here

Valeska Grisebach’s Western centers on a German construction crew’s arrival to a Bulgarian worksite where they’re tasked with building a hydroelectric pump. In what registers as both a crass nationalist statement and a somber symbol of colonial rule, the workers of the German crew erect their flag. Yet it’s Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann) who doesn’t follow suit with his fellow German’s sense of entitlement; he’s quiet, polite, and engages with locals with urbane respect despite their language barrier. As friction and resentment divides the German construction crew and Bulgarian locals, Meinhard, a man without an identity – a loner whose ties with the Foreign Legion arouses as much curiosity as it does suspicion – finds himself having to align with one or the other.

Grisebach crafts a remarkable dynamic between the two worlds, finding an intriguing vessel in Neumann’s creased yet wise features. Many commentators are likely to bring up the similarities between Western and Claire Denis’ seminal Beau Travail but Grisebach’s stylistic approach isn’t as concerned with the ephemeral qualities of Denis’ work. Rather, she utilizes the totems of American Western iconography to provoke a dense text on the futility of certain disingenuous liberal ideologies. Grisebach’s provocations are of a subtle and deliberate variety, but the more it reveals itself to you, the more you begin to identify with its troubling polemic. It’s a powerful and haunting introduction to Grisebach’s work, and certainly one would hope that the wait for a new film (this is her first film in over a decade) won’t be anywhere near as long. 

Highly Recommended