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West

When Nelly and her small son Alexej are finally allowed to leave the GDR their ordeal is only just beginning. The allied forces suspect Alexej’s father, a Russian scientist who died in a mysterious car accident, of espionage and continue to ...

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With this film it is safe to assume that the project is personal. What connects the director, Christian Schwochow (NOVEMBERKIND, DER TURM), his mother and scriptwriter Heide Schwochow, Julia Franck, the author of the novel on which the film is based (Campfire), with thousands of other GDR refugees is that they all experienced the disorientation of starting a new life in the West. Although the Franck’s left the GDR in the late 1970s, and like the film’s protagonist they spent 9 months in a refugee centre, the Schwochow’s received their GDR exit visa on November 9, 1989. Even though the Wall had fallen the family packed their bags and left East Berlin for Hanover. Christian Schwochow was eleven when his family left the GDR. Today he compares that experience to a break-up: “At some point in a relationship is suffocating, you decide it is too much and you want to end it. But there often isn’t an alternative to that unhealthy relationship. You don’t know right away what kind of a new relationship you’d like to have – or what kind of life you’d like to lead.”

WEST starts where most GDR exit or escape stories end – with a successful crossing of the border. After a nerve-racking and appalling exit control, Nelly and her 8-year old son Alexej are permitted to leave East Germany. Nelly’s relief at having made it to the other side is immeasurable. But what awaits them, to Nelly’s surprise, is not much different than the system they just left behind. Alexej’s father, a Russian scientist who died under mysterious circumstances, is of interest to the Allied intelligence agents. Thus Nelly is subjected to repeated interrogations and the necessary stamp of approval is refused. The length of their stay in the transit centre becomes unclear, and the longer they stay in limbo the more Nelly’s insecurity and mistrust intensifies. Is Alexej’s father really dead? And was he a spy? Is she being followed or under surveillance by the Allies or by the Stasi? Is her friendly neighbour in the centre a snitch?

Other more heavy-hitter German directors, like Florian von Donnersmarck and Bernd Eichinger, might have made a spy film out of this in-between world. Indeed one does find individual pieces of the Cold War thriller genre in WEST: clandestine meetings, erotic manipulation, ambiguous behaviour, and even an action scene. But director Christian Schwochow and his team deliberately refuse the big drama. Contradictions persist. Questions remain unanswered. The everyday – cooking in the communal kitchen, the small bathrooms, contact in the common rooms –is always present. Most impressive are the small yet effective autobiographical events that stay with you long after the film ends.

Hendrike Bake (INDIEKINO MAGAZIN)

Translation: Carla McDougall

Credits

Original title: Westen
D 2013, 102 min
Genre: Drama
Director: Christian Schwochow
Author: Heide Schwochow
Distributor: Senator Film
Cast: Jördis Triebel, Tristan Göbel, Alexander Scheer
FSK: 12
Release: 27.03.2014

Website

Screenings

Screenings

  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles
English/with English subtitles
All languages

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