Panorama | Contemporary World Cinema
The long-awaited follow up to the wonderful Longing (VIFF 06), Valeska Grisebach’s third feature, without question one of the best films from Cannes—and also the most intelligent—takes place in the hinterlands of Bulgaria near the Greek border. An all-male German construction crew has arrived as neo-colonial conquerors, setting up camp, literally flying the national flag, and preparing for infrastructure improvements. Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann, like the entire cast, a nonprofessional) is new to the gang, and through his gentle behaviour alienates himself by striking up friendships with the local villagers in spite of linguistic barriers. (The entire film is a master class in watching people who speak different languages try and communicate.) Scene-by-scene the tension and potential for conflict builds from numerous angles—metaphorically as well as camera-wise—but constructing an anti-dramatic foundation, Grisebach is intent on subtle observation rather than sensational showdowns, one element contributing to the revisionism she’s performing on the genre. Indeed, Grisebach’s clever script makes use of some key elements of the Western—the chiselled outsider, the horse, simmering clan conflict, damsels in distress, a hoedown—and either turns them on their heads, or pursues them in a geopolitically astute manner. Grisebach’s Western could just as well be called Eastern, and speaks strongly to the social conditions in Eastern Europe today, through one man’s search for home.