Der Bunker (Review)

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DER BUNKER

THE SETUP

Firstly I’d just like to say thanks to International Distributor, Artsploitation Films for sending me a Blu Ray copy of Nikias Chryssos’s film “Der Bunker” for reviewing purposes. Der Bunker is a German film that mixes Horror/Drama and Black Comedy in the most peculiar of ways (is there any other way?). A man referred to only as “Student” (played by Pit Bukowski), takes up an offer to lodge in the bunker of a countryside mansion owned by a tight-knit, oddball couple (David Scheller and Oona von Maydell) and their 8-year-old son Klaus (played by Daniel Fripan). The Student aims to focus on his physics research, something that proves harder and harder to do with the families constant in-house distractions. Now I don’t get the opportunity to see a lot of European cinema and not because I don’t want to, its mainly due to the fact that it isn’t well promoted on our side of the world. I stumbled across the IMDb page for Der Bunker and thought it sounded like a bizarre film and therefore I had to see it, if for no other reason than to just experience that bizarre-ness.

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THE GOOD

On the technical side of things Der Bunker is an extremely polished product, as are most  of the films coming out of Europe. Nikias DP (director of photography), Matthias Reisser does a fantastic job of the cinematography, everything is neatly confined with a majority of the film taking place inside the families bunker. In the beginning there’s some impressive wide shots of the snow-covered landscape, as the “Student” treks through the heavy field to approach the home. Once inside, the remainder of the camera work is smooth and the shot choices are smart. Most of the editing is strong but a scene involving the mother’s conversation with the mysterious “Heinrich”, is abruptly entered into and pulled out of even quicker (losing sight of whatever it was attempting to convey in the first place). The audio levels are clear and the English subtitles are well presented. I liked the lighting, especially in the kitchen where a lot of the scenes occur. The approach to the lighting had the feel of a stage play but then during scenes in the student’s bunk room, things were much darker in order to depict his isolation (much like any Cronenberg film). Toward the end there’s some use of Red and Green lighting and that works well too. The music is quite contrasting depending on the scene. It trades between conventional classical compositions and ominous synth and bass, with a clever use of heightened sound.

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The tone of Chryssos’s script is really quite difficult to put your finger on and I think that was probably his intention. From the opening dinner table scene through to the unusually stark ending, you’re not entirely sure what to make of it all, if anything. There’s most certainly a story here but how much of it translates will depend on the individual and what you’re hoping to see happen with this family. Der Bunker is an eccentric, art house influenced, coming of age story about two parents who are having trouble loosening their grip on a developmentally stunted son. There’s awkward dancing and a random musical number performed by Klaus and plenty of other random things to distract you but at its core, Der Bunker is about a boy trying to learn the capital cities (yes it’s true haha.. well sort of). Klaus claims to be 8 years old but looks to be around 25 (surely we’re not supposed to ignore that) and he’s clearly progressing at a snail’s pace, which doesn’t please mother and father so they punish him and eventually convince the “Student” to tutor the boy as a sort of payback for boarding. On any given day in the life of this bizarre family, the father reads aloud some of the least funny German themed jokes you could hear, the mother confides in Heinrich (a spirit of sorts) while mapping out the best course of action for Klaus’s studies and Klaus himself attends daily classes taught by the “Student”. For whatever reason the Student finds himself drawn to the family and in particular Klaus, so much so that it interferes with his work on the Higgs particle theory (theoretical physics).

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Based upon the ending of the film I’m not entirely convinced Klaus was even their son but I think that’s still open to interpretation and I’m not spoiling anything by saying so. Some of the dialogue was quite amusing and evoked a few chuckles here and there, although its hard to know if laughter is the appropriate reaction for some of these interactions (I suppose it doesn’t matter). There’s a line of dialogue where the father says to the Student “If you ever need help I’ve got diplomas too” (in relation to the specific physics the student is working on haha). On another occasion the mother is physically distressed and leaves the dinner table. Following her exit, the Student tries to lend his sympathy while the father simply explains it with, “You don’t know what its like to be a woman”. There’s several examples of quirky dialogue throughout the film which helps makes up for some of the stale interactions. The strongest aspect of the film is the performances from all four actors. For all intents and purposes this is a one location, minimal characters type of experimental feature and that’s not an easy thing to carry. Each member of the cast has to do something uncomfortable at some point but its Fripan and Maydell who’ve got some of the most awkward scenes to carry out. There’s something serious to be said about the psychological effects from domineering parental control. It doesn’t even have to be physical abuse that causes problems, with this kind of under development, it’s cerebral.

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THE BAD

As is the case with most films, the likes and dislikes in regard to entertainment value are personal opinion but Der Bunker doesn’t have many obvious flaws. The glaring one has to be the age of Actor, Daniel Fripan (who I believe is about 30) and he’s portraying an 8-year-old boy (at least in mental capacity), so one might argue how ridiculous that seems but I think Der Bunker knows it’s quite absurd and in turn, that’s par for the course. The film doesn’t lack for awkwardness either and therefore it’s not the type of movie you’d recommend to a group of friends to watch. Bold sex scenes and the usual vulgar profanity pale in comparison to the visceral surprise of Klaus’s feeding customs. I can handle most things but I draw the line at on-screen breast-feeding (yes it does happen and multiple times), especially for a 30-year-old man (even if he supposed to be 8, that would be weird enough). I wondered if the Student almost saw the mother as somewhat of a muse. From the moment things begin to escalate between the two, he’s able to make in roads into his research where beforehand it remained stagnant. I think the story warranted deeper insight into the parental characters habits and in general just more exposition. Personally I saw the “being” of Heinrich as a psychological manifestation of the mothers fear of letting go, of letting her son out into the big wide world once and for all. Similar themes around the fear of parenting were touched on in “Eraserhead”, David Lynch’s surreal nightmare from the 70’s and that’s also my take on this one.

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If nothing else Der Bunker is a truly unique viewing experience. In a world full of derivative works it certainly deserves some accolades. It has an irregular narrative that can be likened to Harmony Korine’s, “Gummo” with a touch of the twisted family dynamics of “Dogtooth”, a Greek film from 2009 ( and another truly strange experience). The cinematography and audio are impressive and the lighting along with the score, give the film plenty of life. There’s some entertaining interactions and the film’s healthy dose of darkly comedic moments keep it moving along nicely. The performances are solid and the story simple at its core. I’m sure there’s probably a lot more detail in these characters that could have been explored. I’d rather have seen more of that than been confronted with extended uncomfortable moments (e.g the breast-feeding scenes). With Nikias choosing not to explore the themes to greater lengths, I can’t help but think this one might have better suited the “short” medium. In the end it all comes back to personal taste (like most things). Unfortunately most of the people I know aren’t going to get behind a film like this but I like to support film in general and it can’t be denied that this is a well made, art house  film. I have to look at this from an entertainment point of view as much as anything else though and on that front, it’s probably not going to be for most people. Check out the trailer below if you’re intrigued!

My rating for “Der Bunker” is 5/10

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