Tag Archives: Western

Western

Rating: 5 out of 5 (classic)

Director: Valeska Grisebach

Cast: Meinhard Neumann, Reinhardt Wetrek, Syuleyman Alilov Letifov

Synopsis: Sent to a remote corner of Bulgaria, a German construction team find themselves at odds with the locals. Grizzled former Légionnaire Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann) is the outsider of the team, integrating with the locals and placing himself between both sides.

Germany, the unaware King

Since Rome every European power has tried to scramble for the continent, but Germany is the anomaly, in defeat and disgrace its has become the victor. Marked as the Cold War default line and then moulded into the E.U’s protector and financier, Germany today is the King unaware of the crown it has unwillingly built. Returned to global status and granted an empire in all but name, Germany struggles to lead Europe to the future. Why Germany cannot move forward is because it cannot move on, its misdeeds litter the continent. From Anne Frank’s home in Amsterdam to the husk of the Warsaw ghetto, the spectre of the Nazi empire still lingers, if only by shallow breathes.

Looking into the past

Set in a country which was allied with Germany in World War Two, Western confronts the Nazi legacy contained in Bulgaria. The older villagers fondly remember the German soldiers who passed through to invade Greece. The promise of development espoused by the construction team harks to the Nazi’s quest of butchering Eastern Europe under the banner of ‘progress’. It is a past which the German building crew instinctively, and triumphantly, connect with. When the German flag is hoisted atop the construction camp and it unfurls across the idyllic mountainside, the builders become the arriving conquerors, achieving what could not be done 70 years ago. The German builders are bound by past stereotypes while the Bulgarian villagers are caught by the present prejudices in Western Europe held towards the Slavic countries. The name itself, Western, alludes to the clash between the two groups, between East and West as the image of both sides is both affirmed and changed.

A hall of mirrors

Nothing and no one is clear in Western. The Germans’ promise of development is underpinned by profit and the villagers are friendly but hostile, forgiving yet vindictive. The villager leaders who Meinhard befriends straddle a line between farmer and gangster, men who comfortably attend meetings with a pistol and whose business veers into outright criminality. Surrounded by two ways of life and two peoples so alien to each other, the film’s borderland locale is a warping hall of a mirrors; a place where the viewer can never expect the next moment. Bloodshed constantly seems inevitable between the groups, yet Western surprises at each possible breaking point.Western’s constant is its ambiguity, to be a Western film far removed from America while sporting a plot that says much while little happens. What allows Western to maintain this balance are the cast of non-trained performers and in particular Meinhard Neumann. Neumann mesmerises, his slightest actions grip every scene and his silent intensity indicates a man who is not acting but relieving his own life. Being ordinary people, the rest of the cast grant Western’s pace the slow burn of a documentary unlike the dragging plot of many independent films.

Two faces of Colonialism

In the dichotomy between Vincent (Reinhardt Wetrek), the construction leader, and Meinhard lies the two faces of colonialism, the desire to either impose or integrate. Vincent may resent Meinhard’s seeming success in befriending the locals and learning their way of life, but in the end both know that the land can not and will not become their own. Although the traces of Germany’s past resonate through the wild borderland, the nation’s future as Europe’s vanguard is more obscured. It is in Vincent’s promise of infrastructure to the area that belies Germany’s role of moderniser among the E.U’s poorer states. It is a role which Germany, like the construction crew, is unsure how to perform in practice. The recipients of German toil accept it begrudgingly, dismissing it as another attempt to rebuild the Reich.

To be a man

The Western genre is about masculinity and masculinity to the Western is two things, sex and violence. The men forming the two sides of Western clamour for parts of the genre’s masculine image, the Germans eyeball the local women while the Bulgarians talk of toughness, soldering and killing. Only Meinhard the outsider has both, but far from the stoic cowboy figure Meinhard is vulnerable and volatile. He is a man envied by either side while in reality he has nothing. Meinhard, like any gunslinger, must move on, and that is the tragedy of Western’s subverted take on the genre. Meinhard will always be the outsider, no matter his efforts to fit in both at home and far away.

Western may look like a BBC Four film, something to be enjoyed by the middle class and the middle aged on a Saturday night, but it is worth far more appreciation than many Anglophone films out now.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer see below:

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Trailer Roundup: September

Following this summer’s box office slump, here a few films to look forward to!

Hostiles

Release date: Currently travelling between film festivals, no set date for the cinema release

The Work

Release date:  Out now in the U.K.


Arriving from nowhere, a trailer for The Work suddenly appeared two weeks ago at my local independent cinema and fortunately it is available in the U.K since Friday 8 September.

Focusing upon a group therapy session over four days between Folsom Prison inmates and outsiders, the trailer alone bristles with intensity and is definitely not a documentary to miss. Hopefully there will be more throat signing in the actual film, which I have reviewed here.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Release date: 6 October 2017 in the U.S.

Directed and written by S. Craig Zahler who directed Bone Tomahawk which Hagood reviewed and enjoyed here. 

Vince Vaughn made a good anti-hero in the glimpses I caught of HBO’s True Detective‘s second season. Vaughn’s new role in Brawl in Cell Block 99 as boxer-turned-drug dealer Bradley Thomas follows that anti-hero thread. Unlike True Detective, Zahler has really used Vaughn’s natural physicality. Ignoring the bald head and crucifix tattoo combo Vaughn is rocking, he is naturally quite a scary guy, especially when practising his boxing on an innocent Suburu as shown in the trailer.

I cannot wait to see this film, in part due to how well the music choice fits the trailer, which is always a good sign.

Shot Caller

Release date: 18 August 2017 in the U.S. (out now)

There is definitely an unintentional prison theme going on in this article.

Nikoloaj Coster-Waldau plays Jacob Harlon, a respectable family man, who after a car accident, winds up in a maximum security prison where he slowly and tragically becomes ensconced in prison life. Alongside Nikolaj is Lake Bell, Jon Bernthal, recently in Baby Driverand Jeffrey Donovan.

For a film with a respectable cast, Shot Caller has received almost nought attention from the media and little exposure in cinemas. Unfortunately, Shot Caller is not the only film this year that has been forgotten by the film industry as I stated in my piece about Netflix here.

The main star is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known for his role as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones. Alongside Netflix original Small Crimes in which Nikolaj plays a Jamie-esque character minus the incest, there seems to be a trickling current to propel the actor as a veritable film star. Shot Caller might not get Nikolaj public recognition, but it will hopefully get filmmakers interested in him.

Lady Bird

Release Date: November 10

What’s a trailer round up without an A24 film? Released a week ago, this trailer shows what appears to be a semi-light hearted coming of age movie in a similar vein to last year’s Age of Seventeen. The film stars Brooklyn and Hana actress Saoirse Ronan and Manchester By The Sea standout, Lucas Hedges.

Here at Title Roll, we’re huge fans of A24’s mission and work to bring smaller, indie films to the large screen. While sometimes coming of age films fall flat, Lady Bird seems to have struck a nice quirky tone with its main character, “Lady Bird” who is a strong willed, Catholic high schooler. She wants to rebel against everyone including her similarly stubborn mother (Laura Metcalf) and it is in such familial struggles where often great movies are separated from mediocre films.

We shall see if first time director Greta Gerwig (who also wrote the script) can strike this delicate balance between angsty (but sometimes funny) teenager outbursts and serious, family drama. We’re hopeful she will.

The Valley of Shadows

Release date: 20 October 2017 in Norway, elsewhere not confirmed

I thought I should add this as a final choice. The beautifully stark Norweigan background which becomes hauntingly ethereal as the trailer unfolds makes the film feel like a cross between Pan’s Labyrinth and Let The Right One In .

The plot revolves around Alask, a young boy living in a rural Norweigan town who believes a werewolf is stalking the land. While The Valley of Shadows may not be released in the Anglophone world anytime soon, it is one to look out for.

By Saul Shimmin and Hagood Grantham

Bone Tomahawk

Movie Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, Matthew Fox, & David Arquette.

Director: S. Craig Zahler

Synopsis: A stranger wanders into a small, western town. His suspicious actions draw the attention of  the town sheriff, Hunt (Kurt Russell), who wounds the man when he tries to run away from an interrogation. That night, Samantha (Lili Simmons), the town’s stand-in doctor, tends to the man’s injury at the jail as Hunt’s deputy stands guard. The next morning, a townsman alerts Hunt that savages kidnapped Samantha, the deputy, and the stranger, which prompts a rescue mission. A four-man search party forms and they set-out after the savages. A lot of fun, death, and fear ensues.

I realize my synopsis might make Bone Tomahawk sound like a rip-off of John Wayne’s 1956 classic, The Searchers, but trusts me, Bone Tomahawk surpasses its predecessor. I think my favorite part of the film is its realness. The movie’s actors skillfully embody the frailty of human life on the west. When the savages attack the town, none of the townspeople run scared or act crazy. Through their actions, the audience can see that such awful occurrences are not uncommon. Also, none of the characters are normal western “heroes” who can shoot from the hip and hit a running man at 100 yards. Each man shoots how a normal, somewhat-skilled cowboy would shoot.

Bone Tomahawk‘s greatest deviation from The Searchers though is its gradual descent from a western film into a horror one.  One of the first indications of such a transition begins with the Zahler’s decision to limit his shots to medium and close-up shots of the search party. At first, this limitation annoyed me because I wanted to see the grand landscapes that often paint western films. However, as Zahler restricts his shots, the audience loses more and more knowledge of what actions occurred outside of the frame, creating a sense of unease. Zahler compounds this feeling by electing not to add a score or soundtrack to the film. Breathing, crickets, and the wind are the only sounds the audience hears, which increased my fear because I felt so alone and lost while watching this movie. Normally, a movie’s score indicates when something is about to happen. Most horror movies have a soundtrack and when it stops, it is hinting that something is about to occur. Bone Tomahawk provided no such signposts leaving me on edge for most of the film.

Zahler also wrote the film and followed a tried and true formula. Place your characters in a bad situation and then make it worse. He did a fantastic job executing this strategy because with each passing moment, the search party fell into deeper and deeper peril. The reason I enjoyed this facet of the movie is because Zahler created believable reasons for each calamity to occur. My favorite was a brief moment of anger from Samantha’s husband, Arthur (Patrick Wilson), one of the four members of the search party. Mr. Brooder, another searcher, made a quip about Samantha that related to an earlier scene. Arthur responds negatively to the joke, punching Brooder. While his punch landed solidly on Brooder’s jaw, Arthur’s broke leg, in splints, lands unevenly on a rock causing the bone to break the skin. This injury forces Arthur to stay behind as the rest of the party carry’s on with its search.

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Despite all these great facets, the moment that pushed Bone Tomahawk from an excellent film to a classic occurred later in the film when the savages overpower the search party and take them captive. The savages, who are also cannibals, lock the survivors into a cage and take out the previously captured deputy. Up to this point in the film, most violence acts were not shown but only heard. In what was the most grisly scene I’ve ever seen in my life, the savages take the deputy out of his cage, scalp him, shove his scalp in his mouth, take a tomahawk to his genitals, and then devour him. Zahler’s relative restraint in violence up to that point, combined with the high morality of the sheriff and his cohort (except for Brooder at times), the scene was unsettling to the extreme and made hope unreachable for the heroes.

Target Audience: Adults only.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham