Everyone thinks of the Nazis when they think of horrific times in German history, but the nearly 30 years that the Berlin Wall divided East and West Berlin were a lesser-known horror. West gives us a poignant look at the agony that came hand in hand with crossing from the East and starting life anew in the West.
Three years after the death of her boyfriend, Nelly and her nine-year-old son, Alexej, decide to leave the German Democratic Republic in the hopes of making a new life for themselves in the western Federal Republic of Germany. Nelly pretends to marry a West Berliner in order to successfully cross the Berlin Wall and, after that, she and Alexej find themselves the residents of an emergency refugee house where the past which Nelly was trying to escape catches up with her. The Allied Secret Services who govern West Berlin interrogate her on information about her late boyfriend who they suspect was a spy. The trauma of the daily interrogations and her growing sense of paranoia force Nelly to decide whether or not she is willing to forget the past and move on or let it haunt her and Alexej forever.
West is a remarkable work of cinema which is near perfect in every way. The spectacular acting is what’ll jump at you before anything and it deserves to be acknowledged. Jördis Triebel’s portrayal of dedicated, emotional yet fierce, independent single-mother Nelly, rightfully won her the 2013 Montreal World Film Festival and 2014 German Film awards for Best Leading Actress. Relative newcomer Tristan Göbel often steals the scenes as the adorable yet sadly mature Alexej and the handful of supporting cast only add to the film’s excellence.
On top of that, the film’s plot is rock solid. I’m always most critical of story than anything else and there is not a single thing about which to complain when it comes to the story of West. The story is linear without being monotonous, succinct without feeling rushed and even educational without being boring. It beautifully illustrates Nelly’s inner and outer turmoil as she attempts to move away from a past that refuses to leave her alone. The story is heavy and full of action, taking the audience on a ride of welcomed highs and lows.
Add to that the superficial things one expects in a good movie–excellent camerawork that isn’t distracting, beautiful cinematography that takes you back to the groovy 70s and the tactful administration of both light- and heavyhearted moments–and you’ve got a movie that is as close to perfect as a film can get.
Despite the heavy subject matter and its depiction of one of the worst times in German history, you’ll walk away from West with a big smile and an incurable feeling of hope. For that alone this film deserves watching and re-watching.