EUFF Review: “West” (2013)



Original title: Lagerfeuer

Directed by: Christian Schwochow

Written by: Heide Schwochow, Julia Franck (novel; “Lagerfeuer”)

Cinematography by: Frank Lamm

Casting: Jordis Triebel, Tristan Göbel, Alexander Scheer, Jacky Ido, Anja Antonowicz, Ryszard Ronczewski, Andreas Nickl, Polina Voskresenskaya, Hendrik Arnst, Michal Benthin

The past has a way of hunting down those who desperately try to run away, but, how far will this person go to forget and leave behind something that was so close to their heart? West, directed by Christian Schwochow, follows Nelly, who sees her future as bright and exciting living in the West of Germany.  But, her painful and tragic past follows her, when she has to make a tremendous choice; leave behind the past, and live a happy life on the other side of the Wall, or forgets her plans for the future and make her life intolerable by living a life that will bring her nothing but endless suffering.

West begins with its heroes, Nelly, East German (Jördis Triebel), and her son, Alexej Senff, who stand outside kissing a family member goodbye – Nelly`s fiancé, who is also Alexej`s father. This takes place in 1975. Three years later, West brings us back to the same moment, outside of the house where Nelly and her son live. This time, there are only two of them, because Alexej`s father was killed in a car accident. Because of this, Nelly immigrates to thewest2 West, The Federal Republic of Germany, where she thinks can start a new life with her young son, who is wise beyond his years.

No sooner do Nelly and Alexej arrive in the West, when the Allied Intelligence Agencies begin to interrogate Nelly and demand information about her dead boyfriend, who is suspected to have been a spy.  The questions are endless, and cause Nelly to relive her sensitive and heavy past. This soon becomes an obsession for her which puts her relationship with her son at risk, and also their delicate, and seemingly, happy future.

West has the indescribable power to keep its audience interested and engages the viewer in the story from the beginning to the end. Even when you reach the middle of the film, you are still curious about what else West has in store. The most amazing thing is, you will be asking yourself a lot of questions throughout the film, but the questions are answered immediately, before you have a chance to get bored. This would have never happen if not for the contribution of Christian Schochow, who felt as well as understood, the entire story, which is based on Julia Franck`s novel, Lagerfeuer.


Jördis Triebel, who plays Nelly, is superb. Her performance is quite restrained, but at the same time, it`s amazing to see how she feels so comfortable in Nelly`s skin. You will become completely absorbed in her excellent performance. She has been recognized as the best actress in a Leading Role at the 2014 German Film Awards. Tristan Göbel, who plays Alexej, is terrific. While watching him, you find yourself conflicted as to whether laugh or cry.

West touches on quite a sensitive subject matter for Germans, however, this film manages to not to be political at all, and remains a touching and profound story of a woman who stays strong in an impossibly humiliating situation, occurring on the East-West border.  West gives an insightful look into the immigration experience, and the relationship between a mother and son, who as no one else can, becomes his mother`s savior; who has an ability to make her forget her painful past, and live in the beautiful present, to build a promising future.

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