From the Archives: CFF 2016: Der Bunker review

From the Archives: CFF 2016: Der Bunker review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Der Bunker is a tough film to categorize. Is it a horror film? Sure, I guess. A comedy? Yes, but not one that those dreadful “normal” folk would laugh at. Is it an art house film? I mean, perhaps, but is that really a genre to begin with? I don’t know. I’m delightfully confused by this one, but I am confident that in Der Bunker, I’ve seen something unique and special. I guess it’s appropriate that it will be screening at PhilaMOCA because whatever it is, it’s certainly a cinematic soulmate to Eraserhead.image1

Not that Der Bunker is particularly Lynchian in design. The comparison I’m drawing is not necessarily in how it looks, nor in its subject matter, but rather how it makes the viewer feel. To clarify, while watching Der Bunker I felt equal measures of confusion, intrigue, and satisfaction. I found myself actively digging beneath the surface of each shot; wringing every line, every skewed glance from one character to another for meaning and motivation. For the entire runtime I was an active participant in the film – a detective seeking to decode the mosaic of abnormality unfolding in front of me. Much like Eraserhead, I wasn’t quite sure what was happening, but I was never bored for a second.

On its surface, Der Bunker is a strange tale indeed. Set entirely within a bunker/mansion (you read that right) the film begins with a family sitting down for dinner, eagerly awaiting a houseguest. There’s Father, a proper oddball with a keen sense of familial pride. Mother, a homely yet sultry type with a curious limp. And there’s Klaus, their ageless son, played to creepy perfection by an adult man. Or maybe he is indeed an adult in context. I don’t know. I don’t want to know. Their guest comes in the form of “Student,” who is renting out their extra room to work on his physics studies. Student’s rent is short, so he takes on the task of tutoring Klaus. Then things get weird(er).

Visually, the film takes on the look of a danker, moldier Wes Anderson flick, with much of the same stoicism-based humor. Everything in the titular bunker is of a dollhouse symmetry, if said dollhouse were left in a damp attic for half a century. Populating this odd setting (which director, Nikias Chryssos shoots with such dexterity so as to be both cramped and expansive) is a creepiness often associated with memories of visiting an extremely old relative. It’s home … for somebody. But for everyone else, it’s just … off.

The four main players are commendably committed to the oddity, with Oona von Maydell doing some heavy lifting as Mother. If ever an American remake were to occur, I simply don’t think it could be properly cast. The humor on display here is not able to recreated. Much like Eraserhead, this is a one of a kind flick.

So what’s it about? To me it’s a meditation on growing up, maturity, parenting, familial hierarchy, the educational system, desire, honesty, and learning to let go. But maybe it’s about none of these things. I don’t know and I don’t care, but whatever it is to you, I won’t fight you on it because you are probably right. But maybe you aren’t.

But you won’t know until you see it, and you absolutely should.

Der Bunker has its Philly premiere this Thursday, April 21 at the Cinedelphia Film Fesitval.

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