Christian Schwochow’s West is a slow-burning family drama, set briefly in East Berlin in the late 1970s, but mostly in the Western half of the German city. Upon its release in the UK earlier this year several newspaper critics suggested the film shared links with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives Of Others, which is true to an extent, as the presence of the Stasi is certainly felt here, but a more accurate pairing could be made with Christian Petzold’s Barbara, another film that emphasized the insidious nature of the GDR’s secret police through its hounding of one woman. Jördis Triebel is excellent as Nelly, who applies to move from one side of the Iron Curtain to the other after her Russian boyfriend Wassilij suddenly and mysteriously disappears. Her intention is to make a better life for herself and only child Alexej (Tristan Göbel), but they have trouble settling in West Germany for a number of reasons: the Stasi are simply replaced by the equally-inquisitive and equally-relentless CIA, while understandably waves of paranoia pass through Nelly and Alexej’s temporary home, the Marienfelde transit centre. Within this concrete jungle accusations and seemingly-unjustified beatings are the norm, and the film smartly draws a parallel between the dehumanising treatment meted out to the generous, friendly Hans (Alexander Scheer) by adult contemporaries and the way that Alexej suffers at the hands of school bullies. As the bond between Alexej and Nelly becomes strained it’s interesting to see the way Hans slowly adopts a surrogate father role, while the prospect of romance with Nelly is handled in an intriguing fashion right up to the final scene. The acting is good across the board, the period is subtly recreated, and the screenplay – written by Schwochow’s mother Heide and based on Julia Franck’s novel Lagerfeuer – intelligently challenges certain long-held perceptions with regard to the era’s east/west divide.
Directed by: Christian Schwochow.
Written by: Heide Schwochow. Based on Lagerfeuer by Julia Franck.
Starring: Jördis Triebel, Tristan Göbel, Alexander Scheer, Jacky Ido.
Cinematography: Frank Lamm.
Editing: Jens Klüber.
Music: Lorenz Dangel.
Running Time: 102 minutes.