Forget the title, the wild frontier in this contemporary drama is actually backwoods Bulgaria, where rough-hewn German construction workers are building a new road. It’s not exactly going well, either: there are water supply issues and gravel problems. Their brawny pack leader is growing restless, especially once a newcomer (Meinhard Neumann) begins challenging his authority by getting too friendly with nearby villagers, who are understandably suspicious of the foreigners’ presence. Confrontation looms on all sides, as German director Valeska Grisebach patiently puts together a corrosive portrait of men’s desire to dominate, and how they use posturing threats to get their way.
It is, however, the slowest of slow burns, requiring adjusting to its careful pacing. There’s no instant gratification on offer, but the second half will draw you into its bristling power games. Here, the skeletons of World War II occupation poke out from beneath the economic realities of modern Europe. Leading man Neumann is a find in his screen debut, with the cheekbones, moustache and taciturn poise of ‘Liberty Valance’-era Lee Van Cleef. Unlike his fellow workmates, he picks up some of the local language and strikes up a manly bromance with the village’s wheeler-dealer. Rumours of a violent past only add to his mystique, as the camera watches and waits for it all to kick off. It rewards the patient with a measured but compelling drawn story.