Back in 1978, fake papers and a steady nerve at the checkpoint could get you out of East Germany and into West Berlin. But, as a widow and her small son discover in this revisionist drama, what awaited was not exactly the liberated utopia most were expecting.
Welcome to the murky netherworld of residency application, where refugees were kept in a prison-like dormitory while negotiating a Kafkaesque bureaucracy where security clearance was the key to progress. No wonder Jördis Triebel’s embattled mum Nelly looks frayed: she and her son are locked in a camp rife with Stasi informers, and the ‘accidental’ death of her scientist husband puts her under suspicion from American investigators.
This fascinating situation will be new territory for many viewers, and while our heroine learns the ropes ‘West’ is an engrossing movie. Like the central character, it does eventually get mired in paranoia and uncertainty. But Triebel is a sympathetic presence and the film is historically illuminating, if dramatically a notch below the likes of ‘The Lives of Others’.