Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Nothing Safe About Der Bunker: A Film Review

*full disclosure: a Blu-ray screener of this film was provided by Artsploitation Films.

Director/writer: Nikias Chryssos.

Cast: Pit Bukowski, Daniel Fripan, Oona Von Maydell, David Scheller.

The always provocative Artsploitation Films delivers in a big way with the off-beat, unsettling yet heartwarming German black comedy, Der Bunker! It's the perfect back-to-school film, whether you're hitting the books, teaching a class or having your little one pried from your hands. Nikias Chryssos's feature-length debut takes you on a bizarre journey into the woods where a family of three resides in their own twisted world, which happens to be contained inside a bunker. When the family welcomes an outsider into their strange circle, things become even more ridiculous and entertaining. This creepy, artsy fairy tale hooks you immediately with its dark yet lively atmosphere, charming originality and intriguing, over-the-top characters. Der Bunker is a captivating gem, loaded with stunning imagery, powerful performances and a gripping story that is sure to stay with you for a very long time.

When a student wanders into the woods to rent a secluded study space, he ends up being recruited by his peculiar landlords to teach their inept son. To make matters worse, their son is seemingly a 30-year-old with the mentality of a 5-year-old, who's claiming to be 8 years old. The student is expected to educate and discipline this “boy” so that he will be smart enough to become the President of the United States. Weird, right? Scene-by-scene, things become increasingly bizarre and engrossing. The family dynamic in the bunker is the stuff of a Freudian nightmare—the relationship between this man-child and his mother knows no boundaries, and the father grapples with issues concerning masculinity and his role in the household. If that wasn't enough to put the student off of his studying, a separate dark entity is soon discovered which complicates things even further.

Who is the birthday boy!

Der Bunker is certainly one of the most original pieces to come out in ages. Not only is it provocative in its zaniness, but it's also incredibly relatable. The film tackles human struggles that we can all appreciate, whether we wish to admit to it or not. Some of the main conflicts include the dichotomies of work and play, pain and pleasure, masculinity and femininity, independence and codependence, darkness and light and interior and exterior. Most of the film takes place inside the bunker, and the only glimpses of the outside world occur when a character is in solitude. While the story paints an enchanting picture of the outside and the appeal of independence, it also depicts the domestic interior as a place of comfort and even adventure, while simultaneously portraying the family abode as a prison. The most fascinating aspects of the story for this viewer are the ways in which each character deals with pain and pleasure in relation to education and sexuality; this film presents an interesting critique on gender roles, formal and informal education and maturity in different contexts, and does so with some serious backbone. This movie will get your brain buzzing with all sorts of questions and answers, whether relating to fairy tales, childhood, or Nietzsche's theories, but while worthy of consideration, you don't really need to figure things out; it's an enjoyable piece no matter how your mind perceives it. What's wonderful about the way the thematic content plays out in the film is that it's presented in such a fun, absurd manner. You will laugh your way through this entire story, even when disturbed and perhaps disgusted.

Adding to the insanity, we have four very different characters in very close quarters, creating good tension and conflict, as well as some solid laughs. Well, you could argue that there are five characters if you count the menacing entity that is Heinrich, but we won't get into that. Pit Bukowski (Der Samurai) plays the most “normal” character, simply known as Student. He is supposedly working on a project that requires “absolute concentration.” Then there is the eccentric Mother (Oona Von Maydell) and Father (David Scheller), who seem to exist within their own demented bubble and focus all of their energy on their son, Klaus. Klaus (Daniel Fripan) is the only character, other then Heinrich, with a name, and is arguably the most compelling. In fact, Klaus might be one of the more memorable characters this viewer has ever seen. He is absolutely otherworldly and all of the other characters seem to be obsessed with him to varying degrees. The fact that he's so quirky and cute and ridiculous makes it easy for the audience to become obsessed with him as well. Having said that, every one of these characters is incredibly charismatic and intriguing, and the actors do a phenomenal job portraying them. This ensemble cast is sure to impress movie goers and critics alike.

It's hard to believe that Der Bunker is Nikias Chryssos's first feature film because the direction and cinematography (kudos to Matthias Reisser) are top-notch. This film is one of the most esthetically stunning films to fall into this viewer's hand in quite some time. Each scene is incredibly sexy and creepy and weird and full of childlike energy and heaviness at the same time. Every frame perfectly reflects the dichotomy of interior/exterior and darkness and light; lamps and windows seem to find their way into each shot and help set the tone. The window without a view concept is particularly evocative as is the sexy naked lady lamp that resembles Mother. Equally interesting is how colourful this film is, despite having such a dark undertone—the school room is glaring with yellow walls and fluorescent lighting while the rest of the bunker is heavily saturated in shades of crimson. Red and white permeate this picture, creating a fairy tale element reminiscent of Snow-White and Rose-Red. Those two characters would fit nicely in this story.

Every once in awhile, a film comes along that is an absolute pleasure to watch from credits-to-credits. Der Bunker is without a doubt one of those films. Every shot is incredibly artistic and beautiful and you want to stare at everything all at once. This would be a great film to pause and admire. Fans of unusual, unsettling David Lynch-type stories should put this one at the top of their must-see list.

Rating: 9/10.

More on the film can be found at Artsploitation Films: Der Bunker at Artsploitation Films

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