17 January 2019 | evanston_dad
Despite director Valeska Grisebach's claims that her film, "Western," is inspired by the popular American film genre, the title refers more to cultural differences between western and eastern Europe than it does traditional cowboys and indians. Indeed, on the surface nothing resembling a traditional movie western is to be found in this film, aside from macho posturing and men trying to assert their authority over one another. But then again, I imagine that's Grisebach's point of inspiration, as that's largely what American westerns are all about.
In "Western," a group of German workers is assigned to a construction project in a remote area of Bulgaria, and the film mostly follows one of them, Meinhard, a sort of odd man out, as he sours on the companionship of his fellow workers and instead befriends a nearby Bulgarian village. Meinhard has a violent past, having formerly been a legionnaire (he refuses to answer when one of the men asks if he's ever killed someone), and the whole movie consists mostly of waiting to see if and when Meinhard will explode as tensions between the Germans and Bulgarians mount.
Grisebach has said that she wanted her movie to explore themes of toxic masculinity, a goal that some have applauded while others have derided. I think her point is that in a traditional western movie, the quiet and stoic hero (Meinhard) would only let himself be pushed so far before he asserted his power and authority over the other men, usually through controlled but violent means. But that idea of the alpha male is becoming more and more antiquated, and this film seems to suggest that perhaps the manliest thing one can do is choose to walk away from male bluster and instead join the camp of inclusivity and understanding.
"Western" is full of men being aggressive to greater and lesser degrees -- to women, to each other -- yet it's Meinhard, the one who decides at the film's end to dance at a village celebration rather than mete out the revenge he so clearly wants to take, who emerges as the character with the most strength.