Today marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A mighty day for celebration and bells should toll throughout the land. The world is far from perfect, but some aspects of it are better. Long time friends know this is a subject near and dear to my heart. Five years ago this very day, I celebrated the fall of the wall with my farcical Comedy of Errors rewrite Kitsch.
Thus I was favorably disposed to receive the press release about Christian and Heide Schwochow’s new film West, based on Julia Franck’s novel Lagerfeuer. The film tracks a young mother’s (Jordis Triebel’s) escape from East Germany in 1978 with her son (Tristan Gobel). What she flees from we know only by her testimony; what she flees TO we experience along with her: solitude, fear, prejudice, paranoia, a depressing lack of faith in her academic credentials, and ultimately, for better or worse, uncertainty about the future. Her contrarian attitude is little help. Initially uncooperative with her American investigators, her patriation is slowed down considerably, which is ironic — what is more western (and less totalitarian) than being smart-mouthed and rebellious? The truth is, the father of her child was a Soviet and likely a spy, so now she is being watched by Western officials and probably also the East German Stasi. Much of the film is straight up drama as Triebel’s character has trouble forming relationships — who can she trust? About an hour into it begins to feel like a suspense thriller, but to it’s credit this is a much deeper film than that. It brings Cold War era geopolitics down to an intimately scaled, very human story, with great acting and no easy pieties. New Yorkers, you can check it out yourself. West is at Anthology Film Archives through Thursday, November 13. For information and tickets go here.