Westerners heading East : Valeska Grisebach's "Western" as an anthropological study of European nationalisms
Maël Mubalegh (EHESS)
Paper short abstract:
In her third feature film, "Western" (2017), Valeska Grisebach examines a "clash of the cultures" between Germany and Bulgaria. Interpreted through the concept of "Balkanism", the film can shed new light on the problem of nationalisms in our modern Europe.
Paper long abstract:
When it comes to looking for an anthropological viewpoint among arthouse filmmakers, the first names to surface are often those of documentary film directors. However, since nationalism and national identities are tightly bound to the myths and tales of the communities they relate to, their investigation may benefit even more from an explicitely fictitious approach. Valeska Grisebach's "Western" (2017) examines a « clash of the cultures » between western and eastern Europe by reusing patterns from the classical hollywoodian western in a modern framework - a cinematographic genre which has always questioned the very foundation of the United States of America and therethrough its underlying nationalism. Shooting as usual with non-professional actors, Grisebach follows a group of German construction workers who have been sent to Bulgaria in order to build a small power plant in the local countryside. Most of them are behaving in way that seems rough, assuming they are bringing civilisation to a withdrawn area which has so far remained in the margins of the European Union. This unfriendly arrival gradually triggers patriotic and nationalistic feelings on both the Westerners' and the Easterners' sides. By interpreting Grisebach's film through - among others - the concept of « Balkanism » made up by Maria Todorova in her magnum opus "Imagining the Balkans", the aim is to demonstrate to which extent a contemporary work of fiction, bearing an anthropological ambition, can shed new light on the problem of nationalisms in our modern Europe.
Art and nativism [Anthropology and the Arts Network]