Valeska Grisebach


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Valeska Grisebach (Germany, 1968) directed Mein Stern/ Be My Star (2001) and Sehnsucht/ Longing (2006).

Western (2017) is a somber poem of anti-epic colonialism which revisits themes of the western movie in the setting of a European countryside. Here the emphasis is on what is lost on the translation between the two groups, the colonists and the natives, and how they can bridge the gap.

Meinhard is a German mechanic who is living in a makeshift camp with fellow coworkers, including the Russian-born Boris and their foreman Vincent. The camp is located in the Bulgarian countryside, surrounded by green hills. They have to clean up a dirt road bocked by fallen trees. They discuss how to design the dam and the turbines: their mission is to build a power plant. They plant a German flag. There is a Bulgarian village nearby and two locals complain that Meinhard and a coworker are stealing the plums of someone who owns the land. It is difficult for the Germans to understand what the Bulgarians say. The weather is hot and the workers enjoy the cold water of the river under the sun. Three Bulgarian ladies walk to the other side of the river, dressed to swim. Vincent grabs the hat that a girl drops in the river and then plays rudely with the girl, Viara, who gets upset. The ladies leave. Meinhard finds and mounts a docile white horse. The river doesn't have enough water for the German workers to build the concrete pillars and walls. Meinhard rides the horse to town but can't speak the language of the villagers. A shopowner is hostile to the strannger, while an old man who lived through World War II is friendly, but Meinhard doesn't understand either. The old man gestures that the horse belongs to Adrian. Three kids stop him and one, Valko, tries to get the horse: he is the nephew of Adiran but Meinhard doesn't understand, nor do they understand why he is riding Adrian's horse. Meinhard rides the white horse back to the camp. For the Germans, who are from a rich country, this village feels like going back in time. Meinhard is given a ride by a car full of local people. The Bulgarians try to explain to him that they are near the border with Greece, near a refugee camp. He tells them he's been a soldier in various parts of the world. In the morning the German flag is gone. The Germans start drilling and escavating but they can't do much. In the evening Meinhard walks to town again and drinks with locals. They complain about Vincent harassing Viara at the river. He meets Adrian, a friendly man, and his nephew Vanko. They call him "legionnaire". Later he overhears Vincent on the phone complaining they don't have enough water for the job, no even for drinking. Then he overhears him talking to his wife or girlfriend Sonja who wants to leave him. Vincent is clearly unhappy with their situation and with his personal situation. Vanko teaches him how to ride the white horse, and Meinhard helps Adrian's family build a wall. The villagers have lots of water and he wonders why. They explain that they divert it to grow tobacco. Adrian drives Meinhard in his Russian truck through the countryside and shows him the valve that controls where the water flows. They cannot both have water. Back at the camp, Meinhard explains to Vincent why there is no water in the river. Meinhard is getting attached to the white horse. Vincent confronts him violently about defending the rights of the villagers. A businessman comes to camp to sell gravel. He and Vincent have a misunderstanding because neither speaks the language of the other, and the businessman leaves upset. Meinhard spends the evenings at the village, where villagers congragate to chat in the poorly lit streets because there is nothing else to do. He watches them wrestling and joins them playing cards. He wins quite a bit of money from a local named Kista. Later Vanko tries to jump on him as a joke but Meinhard easily knocks him out and Vanko loses consciousness. Then he has to carry him home unconscious. Vanko's parents are in Greece because there is no work. Meinhard is easily forgiven and offered drinks by the family. He tells them he has no wife and no children. Adrian has children but they are all gone abroad. Meinhard tells him that his brother died, and Adrian tells him that now they are brothers. That night he sleeps in the family's house. Meanwhile, Vincent takes his white horse, finds the valve and diverts the water towards the camp. On the way back the horse slides down a ravine and gets injured. Vincent abandons the horse and walks back to the camp. Back at the camp, Meinhard sees that they have water to start working, but his horse is gone. That evening he chats with Adrian's wife and heps her dry the tobacco leaves, but they can't quite communicate. Adrian is angry with the Germans because he discovered that someone turned off the water. Boris translates. Vincent admits he has done it but explains that they are there to work and build a power plant for the village. Vincent offers to install a more powerful pump that will solve the problem, but it will take a month. Viara speaks a bit of German and translates. Vincent asks Viara out to dinner but she refuses. At the camp Vincent is in a bad mood. Meinhard finds the horse dying at the bottom of the ravine. He informs Adrian who comes with a gun to finish the animal but is heartbroken, so Meinhard grabs the gun and shoots the animal. They use machinery to bury the horse under stones. At night Meinhard is helping Adrian at the quarry when a powerful man comes to stop them, and Meinhard acts as Adrian's bodyguard, pointing the gun at the man to send him away. Vincent walks to the ravine and sees the horse has disappeared. Meinhard finds him there and threatens him. Vincent apologizes. Work resumes but there is tension between the two Germans. Meinhard befriends Viara who is drinking alone in the square. He walks her home and they hang out till sunset. She tells him that she loves the village. They kiss and have sex in the field. Later Meinhard joins the villagers who are playing cards. They are curious if he ever killed people in war. On the way back to the camp, Kosta stops him and asks him to return the money that he won him at cards. Meinhard understands what he wants and gives him some money but not the whole sum. Minutes later three German coworkers ambush him but he pulls out a knife and they leave him alone. He sleeps by the river. In the morning he hitches a ride with the Bulgarians who take him to an outdoor party. Vincent and the German workers are also invited. Meinhard gifts his knife to Vanko. Vincent sees Viara speak friendly to Meinhard and is jealous. The party goes on till late. A Bulgarian punches Meinhard in the face, presuably because they saw him with Viara. He doesn't fight back and falls to the ground. Vincent watches from afar and doesn't help. As Meinhard is still lying on the ground, Adrian returns the knife that Meinhard gifted to Vanko. Meinhard walks back to the party and joins the dances.
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