the late 1960s, the New Left popularized the slogan “the personal is political.”
They did not do Nelly Senff any favors by doing so. When she crosses over to
West Berlin, she cites “personal reasons” as her motivation, but the Allied
security services are primed to distrust such evasive answers, for good reason.
Senff quickly learns she might be unwittingly caught amidst a wider conspiracy
in Christian Schwochow’s West (trailer here), which screens
during the 2014 KINO! Festival of German Films in New York.
was once a leading scientist in East Germany, much like her late Russian partner,
Wassilij. He was an erratic presence in her life and that of their son, Alexej,
but they still miss him dearly. Therefore, it is a bit of a shock when Senff
learns her roguish lover was also a Stasi courier, who perhaps faked his death
to escape their grasp. Keen to find out his whereabouts, the various agencies
withhold Senff’s requisite approvals until she gives them answers. That means for
the foreseeable future, she and Alexej will be stuck in the gray, institutional
Marienfelde Refugee Center and not legally employable.
respectable West is not nearly
comparable to Petzold’s Barbara or
Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others,
but it never seeks to excuse or deny the human rights violations of the GDR
regime. From what we see and hear in the film, life in the East was pretty bad.
There is a fair amount of moral equivalency going on, but the Americans emerge
looking the best, thanks to the sympathetic presentation and portrayal of CIA
agent John Bird, playing with finely nuanced sensitivity by Jacky Ido.
similar reasons, the obvious comparison between Nina Hoss’s Dr. Barbara Wolff
and Jördis Triebel is not favorable to the latter. She does a fine expressing Senff’s
mounting paranoia, but she cannot reach the same levels of diffident defiance
and quiet vulnerability.
in terms of its structure and tenor, West
is a bit erratic. Just when it is poised to become a Brezhnev era Third Man, it pulls back from the brink,
settling for more domestic dramas. Still, it definitely convinces viewers
government buildings are no place to raise a child. It also takes seriously the
notion of Stasi persecution targeting GDR defectors.
works towards a hopeful statement rather than an angry one, making it an
interesting film to see in conjunction with Dercourt’s A Pact, also screening during the festival. It is a work of some merit,
but it lacks the moral heft and tragic pay-off of its more heralded predecessors.
Recommended with minor reservations, West
opens this year’s non-MoMA KINO! with an invite only screening at the
Museum of the Moving Image this Thursday (6/12), in advance of a forthcoming
New York theatrical release.
Labels: East Germany, German Cinema, KINO '14