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Review: In ‘Western,’ German Workers Fan Tensions in a Bulgarian Town

The title of Valeska Grisebach’s beautifully complicated, rigorously straightforward third feature, “Western,” has at least two meanings. The German workers who come to a remote rural valley in Bulgaria to build a hydroelectric plant are emissaries of the West, bringing the ambiguous benefits of capitalist development to a former Eastern Bloc nation. It’s not the first time Germans have been here, as several people point out, even if the crew hardly resembles an occupying army.

But they do call to mind the cavalrymen in a movie like “Fort Apache”: interlopers in someone else’s territory, surrounded by a local population that is wary of their presence and sometimes hostile to it. The Germans live in a camp some distance from the nearest village, whose residents most of them regard with contempt. The exception is Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann), who is older than most of his colleagues and has a different work history. A haggard loner with a thousand-yard stare and a melancholy air, he claims to be a former soldier who has been in inhospitable places before. He befriends some of the Bulgarians, which spreads tension in every direction.

A preview of the film.

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