DIR: Christian Schwochow • WRI: Heide Schwochow • PRO: Thomas Kufus • DOP: Frank Lamm • ED: Jens Klüber • DES: Tim Pannen • MUS: Lorenz Dangel • DES: Scott Kuzio • CAST: Jördis Triebel, Tristan Göbel, Alexander Scheer
West is the latest film from German director Christian Schwochow, based on the novel of the same name written by Julia Franck, and right from the start, it pulls you into its narrative with some brilliant shot composition, great direction, and a palpable tension.
West is a story about a women trying to forget her unhappy past in order to move into a happier future, all helmed by a highly skilled director and a truly brilliant cinematographer, and a cast of impressive actors.
Our story begins in East Germany in 1975. We see a young couple and their son, with the father heading off on a business trip. Cut to three years later, and the mother and son leave East Germany without the father, leading to a particularly tense scene.
At this point, the mother (Nelly) and her young son (Alexej) move into sheltered accommodation, where they will be forced to stay until Nelly can get her immigration card fully stamped, find herself a job, and get enough money for them to move out. Unfortunately, things are soon complicated by Nelly’s mysterious past, which seems determined to dog her footsteps, to prohibit her from entering her future.
Now I’m no mind-reader, but I’m pretty sure this film is going to receive a lot of criticism for being unfocussed narratively, which, on the surface it is, but I have a feeling that’s the point. For example, at one point some Americans, while questioning Nelly, ask her if she ever suspected her boyfriend Wassilij was still alive – while another film would use this as an excuse to start a thriller narrative wherein Nelly investigates the apparent death of her boyfriend, in this case Nelly decides to re-focus on continuing her life, and getting herself and her son into a place of their own.
In fact, that seems to be the reason none of the other plot threads get explored: this is Nelly’s story, told from Nelly’s perspective, and as such, she doesn’t care about anything besides forgetting her past and moving on with her future, hence why so many plot points get ignored, a point greatly illustrated in a surreal dream sequence which involves Nelly getting chased down the street by her dead lover while screaming about how she just wants to forget him.
However, while this is a good story for Nelly, who goes through a pretty good character arc, not all the other characters fare so well. Indeed, it almost feels like the film keeps forgetting about her son Alexej, and has to keep shoe-horning him into the plot.
Luckily, director Christian Schwochow and cinematographer Frank Lamm both do an excellent job. Schwochow knows exactly how to bring true tension to a scene when it’s required, and Lamm manages to shake the camera just enough to get across the characters’ feelings of disorientation.
There’s some fine acting on display, in particular Jordis Triebel, who has to carry a lot of this film’s weight on her shoulders, something she proves herself more than capable of doing.
West is an unusual film, one that often feels disjointed and a little chaotic, just like our protagonist’s state of mind. But, in the end, it’s a very well-made drama about the chaos that is a life in transition, with excellent production values and a cast and crew that shine.
West is released 5th June 2015