West, film review: 1970s-set drama is an intriguing study of family, love and treachery

(15) Christian Schwochow, 102 mins. Starring: Jördis Triebel, Tristan Göbel, Alexander Scheer

Geoffrey Macnab
Friday 12 June 2015 00:30
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Jördis Triebel stars as a young East German woman trying to build a new life in the west with her son
Jördis Triebel stars as a young East German woman trying to build a new life in the west with her son

Christian Schwochow's late 1970s-set drama about young East German woman Nelly (Jördis Triebel) trying to build a new life in the west has some of the same mix of pathos and paranoia that characterised The Lives of Others. This was a period when the Stasi secret service was poisoning the lives of its citizens in the east but in which western authorities were hugely suspicious of refugees. The film doesn't quite deliver on its initial promise but is still an intriguing study of family, love and treachery.

There is a brilliant early scene in which Nelly and her young son are crossing the border. As if by rote, the border guards set out to humiliate her, forcing her to strip naked and asking her a series of intrusive but pointless questions.

The west is no paradise. Nelly and her son are housed in a refugee centre. She doesn't know what happened to her boyfriend, a Russian physicist who disappeared. The authorities are suspicious of her and her son is bullied at school. Everyone fears that there are Stasi informers at the refugee centre and one candidate is Hans (Alexander Scheer), a friendly but unctuous figure. There is the same Kafka-esque bureaucracy in West Berlin as in the east. Nelly is again made to strip, for medical check-ups that are as intrusive as the old Stasi searches, and to endure contemptuous remarks from West German officials. ("East German women just didn't shave," they murmur.)

Triebel gives a very strong performance as a character who is vulnerable, passionate and paranoid by turns but has an extraordinary survival instinct. Yet the film is a little too tentative in its treatment of different levels of betrayal and is undermined by its own creeping sentimentality.

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