Saturday, August 20, 2016

Der Bunker (2016)

Director: Nikias Chryssos
Notable Cast: Pit Bukowski, Daniel Fripan, Oona von Maydell, David Scheller

At times, I like to think of finding strange and often abrasive new films is a challenge. This challenge is easy when the weird films come straight to you and there is no digging through the underground involved. Artsploitation Films did all the work for me. The hype around the oddity that is Der Bunker was already somewhat high, thanks to the film’s run of film festivals including Fantastic Fest, and when it arrived at my office for review I was decently excited to see what it was all about. Truly though, I think we have a winner for the award of “WTF Movie of the Year” because Der Bunker is a defiant movie. It defies to be categorized by genres, it defies a lot of logistical writing, and it defies conventional reason when it comes to some of its themes and approaches them at odd angles. The trick of its defiance? It’s really fuckin’ good at it. Good enough that the more I think about it, the more Der Bunker is going to end up ranking as one of my favorites of the year.

A young man, in an attempt to study some very deep mathematical theories he is working on, attempts to isolate himself by renting out a place from a family deep in the forests of Germany. While the accommodations were not quite what he was expecting, aka he’s living in the basement of a bunker, the family seems to be very warm and welcoming – including their odd 8 year old son. However, as time passes, he begins to see that the family might be a bit off and when he’s coerced into teaching their son, he finds himself being swept up in their own brand of insanity.

Family time is the best time.
If there is any advice that one can give in a review for Der Bunker, it’s to go into the film with an open mind. The film truly refuses to be pigeon-holed into any one genre and it will easily slide its way into various niche genres like pitch black satire, horror, thriller, surrealist drama, etc. If anything, the film is never, ever boring and it gets its kicks by forcing the audience to sit through all-encompassing awkward situations with the main protagonist of the film. It does not shy away from the abrasive or the abnormal and will continually shift the genres and tone in subtle and off beat ways to keep the audience on their toes. Things will constantly evolve in this manner too, including the casting of the 8 year old son and his weirdly over childish clothing, who ends up being creepy within minutes, funny ten minutes later, and then somewhat heart breaking and endearing ten minutes after that and back again through the cycle. Der Bunker isn’t out to throw its audience for a loop, well not in the shocking ways that most obscure cinema tries to do, but it will not necessarily go in the directions its audience wants it to. This tactic makes it something of a fresh feeling and fun cinematic journey.

Pit Bukowski, whom one might recognize as the titular man from another strong Artsploitation Film release Der Samurai, performs the duties as the lead protagonist with a remarkable charm and honesty and it’s his performance and the chemistry that he brings to the rest of the cast that really makes Der Bunker work. Not that the rest of the cast doesn’t hold their own, but his performance is a key for this film to work at all. For a small cast, all of them are very important to the essence of the film and outside of the father character, they all get a decently sized character arc that the movie embraces with its quirky themes of family, destiny, coming of age, and connection. The performances are spot on with the intent of the film and the actors accomplish some pretty impressive things considering the shifty nature of the narrative. When they need to be silly, they are. When there needs to be a darkness undertone to the offbeat situational humor, they nail it. When the film calls for some awkward nudity and subtle reactions to it, they seem intent on selling it with whatever tone needed by the script and director. This knack for balance in their performances is sold by director Chryssos’ unique knack for detail and visual quirkiness. There is a lot to digest in the little things of Der Bunker, which can be helped with the set of deleted scenes on the Blu Ray that really do add quite a bit to further some of the narrative and more subtle pieces of the film, and it makes the film one that can be watched again and again to admire new things. Again, Der Bunker feels fresh and fun for those willing to look for it.

Happy birthday.
Like many of the Artsploitation Films releases, Der Bunker is definitely a film that will find its niche audience and strike a chord there, but not necessarily with the mainstream. For those who frequent Blood Brothers or other sites dedicated to film that doesn’t necessarily feed the mainstream flow, Der Bunker comes with some of our highest recommendations. It’s a film with such an artistic and nuanced style that it only gets better the more its analyzed and digested while retaining such an offbeat and unique approach that it still strikes heavily on the first watch. This is the kind of artistic underground cinema that more people should experience. It’s not necessarily always a pleasant experience with its robust awkwardness, but it’s a worthy one for those looking for something off the beaten path.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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