Sunday, April 03, 2016

CIFF ’16: Der Bunker

Bunkers are maybe sort of like garrets, but darker and even less spacious. It was not the sort of living quarters a socially withdrawn student had in mind, but he accepts it anyway, because he is not good with conflict. That is how he finds himself tutoring the overgrown child of an alarmingly controlling couple in screenwriter-director Nikias Chryssos’ Der Bunker (clip here), which screens during the 2016 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Obviously the promised lake view was a bit of a bait and switch. The Father is also rather cagey about all the incidentals he starts charging to the Student’s account. However, the couple will forgive all of his debts if he starts tutoring their son Klaus (who looks like he is pushing fifty, but is played by the thirtysomething Daniel Fripan). Frankly, Father is not so crazy about the arrangement, but Mother insists. After all, it was suggested to her by Heinrich, the disembodied alien supervillain who communicates through the infected gash on her leg. Look, you’d listen to him too.

When it comes to learning, Klaus is a hard case. Of course, the Student is not exactly the Miracle-Worker when it comes to teaching. However, he finds the conveniently placed rod is an effective motivator.

Films do not get much more twisted than Der Bunker, but it is well served by its Teutonic restraint. All of its wild excesses, like the thirty-ish Klaus who still breast-feeds, are presented so matter-of-factly, it never feels like Chryssos is trying too hard for transgressive shocks. He has a fine eye for mise-en-scene detail and steadily cranks up the claustrophobic tension. However, some bits he leaves frustratingly under-developed, like just what is the dealio with Heinrich.

Pit Bukowski (from Der Samurai) is appropriately blond and painfully reserved as the student. Fripan plays Klaus’s arrested development to the hilt, but also finds pathos in the deeply stunted man-child. Oona von Maydell is just indescribably nuts as Mother, while David Scheller’s Father most closely approximates a sleazy, mentally-abusive game-playing stock character, but he is still pretty unsettling.

As a Greek-German, the last year of Eurozone angst must have been strange for Chryssos to observe. Of course, the film’s German identity adds further layers of creepy significance to its themes of control and submission to authority. It is a very eccentric film, but earns the unique niche it carves out in the cult film world. An unnerving trip in the best possible sense, Der Bunker screens Tuesday (4/5) and Wednesday (4/6) as part of this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival.