The road to starting a new life can be a long, hard and tiring one. Sacrifices must be made and challenges must be met. These are exactly the type of obstacles the main character in West faces and the film, while shot decently and featuring some very strong performances, it lags and doesn’t really go in any direction that is worthwhile or interesting. A German export, the film is a perfect example of realism caught on celluloid but fictional and lackluster at best.
Taking place in the late 1970s, West focuses on East German Nelly Senff (Jordis Triebel), a struggling mother hoping to make things better for her and her young son Alexej (Tristan Gobel). They emigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany after Nelly’s boyfriend gets killed in a car accident. Nelly and Alexej move into an emergency camp in West Berlin, which is cramped and somewhat undesirable. Meanwhile, Nelly is interrogated by Allied intelligence agents because they believe Nelly’s boyfriend might have been a spy.
The story of West is busy and uninteresting which is sad because the acting is rather strong. Jordis Triebel anchors the film exquisitely and she expresses very little emotion but when she does crack a smile or get angry, you can really feel the intensity. Her acting style is similar to that of Kate Winslet and it’s a real pleasure to watch. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Tristan Gobel, who comes off as whiny and somewhat annoying. He is young however, so some slack must be cut.
One of the other cast members who made a lasting impression was Allied intelligence agent John Bird played by a charismatic and masculine Jacky Ido. The scenes he and Triebel share are electric and nothing short of spectacular. You might remember Ido as the film projectionist Marcel in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and he is in fine form here.
Based on Julia Franck’s novel Lagerfeuer, West is an overlong exploration of exactly how far a woman will go to provide for her child. The camp in which Nelly and Alexej stay is packed and uncomfortable, symbolic of each of their emotional states: stressed to say the least. There really isn’t much going on in this film other than strong suspicions of Nelly’s deceased boyfriend who may or may not have been unpatriotic. This tension serves as the film’s primary conflict and honestly, it could have been handled little bit better.
If you fancy a film with subtitles and little in terms of plot, then West might be right up your alley. The story is uninspired and lags which is primarily director Christian Schochow’s fault. The pacing makes a snail look quick and nothing of interest really happens. The weight of the film falls on Triebel’s shoulders and she really does her best to keep things afloat. Typically, films of this nature rely on political themes and harsh realism to convey their messages. The latter applies here and it succeeds here and there but not enough to make the film a cohesive and enjoyable whole.