A double feature from Germany via the New York Times

Your weekly double feature: German gems, June 23, 2021
Meinhard Neumann, left, in a scene from “Western.”Cinema Guild
‘Western’ and ‘Toni Erdmann’
There are no saloons or shootouts or 10-gallon hats in “Western” (2018), a mesmerizing slow burn from the German director Valeska Grisebach. But the title isn’t an accident, either. In detailing the strained relations between rural villagers and a group of German construction workers in Bulgaria, Grisebach suggests that the genre, at its essence, is about disputed territory, masculinity and a tension between cultures that is combustible and perhaps unresolvable — even by the stranger riding into town on his horse.
Now streaming on the Criterion Channel, “Western” assembles a cast of nonprofessional actors who have an authentic look, led by Meinhard Neumann, whose craggy face and bushy mustache make him seem like an old cowboy who woke up in the wrong era. As he and other German workers cross into Bulgaria to help build a hydroelectric plant, they’re greeted with suspicion by the locals, who are naturally wary of foreigners seeking to modernize their corner of the former Eastern Bloc. Although this film is only Grisebach’s third, she is subtle and sure-handed in moderating a dispute between parties who share a continent but remain worlds apart.
One of the producers of “Western” was the brilliant Maren Ade (“Everyone Else”), who had brought in Grisebach as a script consultant on “Toni Erdmann” (2016), a deliciously awkward comedy about a culture clash of a different sort. In a one-of-a-kind performance, Peter Simonischek plays a practical joker who tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Sandra Hüller), who is working as a corporate strategist in Bucharest. When his initial attempts at reconciliation fall flat, he returns home to Germany and comes back soon after as the title character, a life coach with an ill-fitting suit, a wig and a conspicuous set of false teeth. The gambit works better than expected thanks to Ade’s insight into an unusual father-daughter dynamic and an assist from the Whitney Houston songbook. SCOTT TOBIAS
Stream “Western” on the Criterion Channel. Rent it on AppleGoogle PlayVudu and YouTube.
Rent “Toni Erdmann” on AmazonGoogle PlayVudu and YouTube.

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