×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘West’

Despite Jordis Triebel's strong performance, this latest drama about a divided Germany ultimately gets mired in details.

With:

Jordis Triebel, Tristan Gobel, Alexander Scheer, Jacky Ido, Anja Antonowicz. (German, English, Russian, Polish dialogue)

A woman escapes East Germany with her young son in the late 1970s, only to discover the same surveillance and suspicion that drove her from the East awaiting her in the “West.” One of several German filmmakers who have recently re-examined the pre-unification paradigm of a repressive East vs. a hedonistic West, Christian Schwochow charts the dysfunction of his divided country through his heroine’s mental breakdown. Jordis Triebel’s strong performance as a woman consumed by paranoia drew Montreal’s top actress nod, but “West,” like its heroine, ultimately gets mired in details. Further border crossings appear unlikely.

Based on a quasi-autobiographical novel by Julia Franck, the film transpires largely within the closed-in walls of West Berlin’s Marienfelde Refugee Center, where integration into any normal existence is held hostage by a series of tests and interviews that may or may not result in the necessary stamps of approval. Some pass through easily; others remain in limbo for months or even years.

Initially, the intransigent Nelly (Triebel) reacts with anger to the repeated, protracted interrogations by British, French and American agents. It turns out that her late lover and father of her son, Alexej (Tristan Gobel), may not merely have been a scientist; he might not even be dead. Indeed, she states that the reason she fled the East was that the Stasi’s constant harassment left her doubting her own past.

As the forces that drove her from her East German home pop up in new guises to torment her in the West, she begins to cave in to the fear and distrust running rampant through the Center, where every resident is a potential Stasi snitch, every entrant into West Berlin a potential spy. She manages to fend off her automatic defensiveness long enough to connect with a mischievous Polish musician (Anja Antonowicz) and her eminently sane father, but the respectful, helpful attentions of longtime internee Hans Pischke (Alexander Scheer), who appoints himself her son’s protector, arouse nothing but mistrust. The Center’s repetitive, institutional nature, with its bunk beds, long shower lines and communal cafeteria, further undermines Nelly’s autonomy.

She begins to react erratically. She sets up a sexual encounter with a particularly attentive CIA agent (Jacky Ido), but whether she seeks to gain information or wrest control over her plight seems unclear even to herself. Her son, already mocked at school for his East German provenance and unfashionable clothing, watches his mother’s deepening paranoia with dread.

The symptomology of Nelly’s mental state, unconnected to any personality problems or childhood traumas and flowing directly from her country’s endemic schizophrenia, ultimately lacks specificity and color. Brief glimpses offered of Nelly’s ironic intelligence are soon buried in an impersonal pathology. One need only cite Nina Hoss’ vividly memorable performance in Christian Petzold’s East/West drama “Barbara” to appreciate how drearily one-note Schwochow’s German Everywoman seems by comparison.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'West'

Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (competing), Aug. 26, 2013. Running time: 102 MIN. Original title: "Westen"

Production:

(Germany) A Senator Film Verleih release of an O Filmproduktion, Terz Filmproduktion, Zero One Film production, in co-production with Senator Film, WDR, SWR, RBB, Arte. Produced by Katrin Schlosser, Christoph Friedel, Thomas Kufus. Co-producers, Helge Sasse, Barbara Buhl, Stefanie Gross, Cooky Ziesche, Georg Steinert.

Crew:

Directed by Christian Schwochow. Screenplay, Heide Schwochow, based on the novel “Lagerfeuer” by Julia Franck. Camera (color, widescreen), Frank Lamm; editor, Jens Kluber; music, Lorenz Dangel; production designer, Tim Pannen; costume designer, Kristen Schuster; sound (Dolby Digital), Jorg Kidrowski; sound designer, Rainer Heesch. 

With:

Jordis Triebel, Tristan Gobel, Alexander Scheer, Jacky Ido, Anja Antonowicz. (German, English, Russian, Polish dialogue)

More Film

  • Taika Waititi Jojo Rabbit Premiere

    Why Director Taika Waititi Decided to Play Adolf Hitler in 'Jojo Rabbit'

    “Fox Searchlight blackmailed me into doing it,” Taika Waititi told Variety of playing Adolf Hilter in “Jojo Rabbit” at the film’s premiere at American Legion Post 43 on Tuesday night in Hollywood. Staying mum when asked which other actors had been on his wish list to play the role, Waititi explained why he eventually decided [...]

  • ALACARTE_HOME

    Brazil’s Pandora Filmes Readies Country’s First Classic Film Streaming Platform

    Brazilian distribution company Pandora Filmes was founded by André Sturm in 1989 as the country’s first independent distributor of foreign and domestic, classic and contemporary arthouse cinema. Still pushing the envelope three decades later, Juliana Brito is representing the company at this year’s Lumiere Festival, looking for classic film titles to fill out the catalog [...]

  • Hannah Minghella

    Bad Robot Poaches TriStar Pictures President Hannah Minghella to Lead Film Unit

    In a surprise announcement Thursday, J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot revealed it has lured away Sony Pictures executive Hannah Minghella to lead its film division. Minghella will report to Abrams and Bad Robot co-CEO Katie McGrath. She will oversee both development and production. TriStar executive vice president Nicole Brown will take up the mantle in the [...]

  • Paul Dano arrives at the 71st

    'The Batman': Paul Dano to Play The Riddler

    Paul Dano is in talks to join Robert Pattinson in Matt Reeves and Warner Bros. “The Batman,” sources tell Variety. Though the studio would not confirm the role, insiders believe that Dano would be playing the classic comic book villain The Riddler. Dano’s casting comes on the heels of Jonah Hill turning down an offer [...]

  • Taylor SwiftMTV Video Music Awards, Arrivals,

    Vivendi's Third Quarter Results Up Nearly 17%, UMG Still Rising

    Vivendi saw its third quarter revenues increase by 16.7% to €3.97 billion ($4.4 billion) compared with the third quarter of 2018, once again boosted by the growth of Universal Music Group, while Canal Plus Group remained stable. For the first nine months of 2019, Vivendi’s revenues reached €11.3 billion ($12.5 billion), an increase of 14.6% [...]

  • This-is-Cristina

    FiGa Films Takes Salma Hayek-Exec Produced ‘This is Cristina’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Leading international sales agency-production-distribution company, FiGa Films, has snagged all worldwide rights to “This is Cristina” (“Ella es Cristina”), the directorial debut of Chilean scribe Gonzalo Maza, who has co-written four of Sebastian Lelio’s films, including his Oscar-winning “A Fantastic Woman” and Berlin Festival winner “Gloria.” “It’s a pleasure to collaborate with Gonzalo, whose writing [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    How Bright Bulbs Enabled 'The Lighthouse's' Tough Black-and-White Shoot

    Early in principal photography on “The Lighthouse,” writer-director Robert Eggers asked cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who was shooting on black-and-white film stock, if he thought they could capture the look they were going for digitally. Blaschke answered no: Digital wouldn’t let them achieve the texture they had in mind — “what we photography nerds would call [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content