Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 
Author Message
PostPosted: Sat Jul 04, 2020 2:33 pm 
Site Admin

Joined: Sat Mar 08, 2003 1:50 pm
Posts: 4091
Location: California/NYC


I'm an extraterrestrial. I don't have many lines.

Thanks to Grasshopper Films virtual theater's release today it's a treat to get to see Bungalow. Bungalow is German auteur Ulrich Köhler's very promising debut, which has not been easy to see - the first of what BFI writer Ross McDonnell calls his "slow-burning films of dislocation." Recently we saw Kohler's In My Room (at Lincoln Center), a typically realistic and restrained approach to the end of the world.

Bungalow is equally offhand and real. The subject matter is no less absorbing for being less earth-shaking. People seem spied on, caught by chance. Sometimes it's tense but the tension doesn't seem calculated for the audience. Nothing is presented for cinematic effect. This is Kohler's version of the Berlin School, and it's fresh and exciting.

Paul (Lennie Burmeister) is the nineteen-year-old anti-hero of the piece. The actor is tall, fairly good looking, but has a slouch. Utterly at ease on camera, Burmeister exudes a "fuck-it" air. Paul is a soldier at a low level, seen initially in khaki fatigues riding in the open back of a large personnel transport vehicle, one of three trucks headed across southern Germany in the summertime. We glimpse him among other faces looking out the back of the vehicle, his young features appearing sculptured and handsome as outlined in the afternoon light and shadow. To us, he's already somebody.

He goes AWOL in the most offhand of ways. Continuing a long tracking shot by dp Patrick Orth, the transport trucks break at a big highway rest stop for gas and the soldiers run in and grab some coffee or take a leak and run back out. Paul instead takes his coffee and sits down in the busy outdoor cafe with an older man, watching the trucks load and take off without him. He is next seen riding with the man. Avoiding chitchat, Paul then excuses himself at a stop and takes a train.

Paul goes to his architect father's summer bungalow with a pool. No one's there. He undresses. Masturbates. Dresses again and goes over to the pool. Unfortunately, though the parents are on vacation in Italy, his older brother Max (Devid Stiesow) is also staying there with his Danish actress girlfriend Lene (Trine Dyrholm). They're going to Munich in a couple days where Lene has an acting job, a small part in a sci-fi film with English dialogue.

Kohler skillfully mixes elements here, creating the tension of a thriller (because Paul is on the run) with the utterly mundane, which can be upended at any minute by Paul's unpredictability. Is he dangerous, crazy, or just a teenager? Is he unpredictable unintentionally - or willfully? Kohler captures the undefinable quality of quotidian life. What happens isn't important. What does matter is how Kohler captures Paul's indifference to authority, heightened by the fact that he doesn't even particularly try to hide his situation or make excuses to Max. There's also an overlay of German bourgeois comfort - which is so important in the decision-making of In My Room. Here it's in the modest security of everything German, the summer cottage, cash in the pocket, cigarettes, groceries at hand, plenty to drink, a yard with a pool, warm weather to be enjoyed. But all is uncertain too, and Lene gets a call canceling her acting gig, leaving them stranded, like Paul.

Paul creates his own little undefined "room", though he's clearly in flux. He's continually changing his clothes - starting with buying a T shirt while hitchhiking to disguise that he's wearing a soldier's uniform - and often naked or shirtless. He's childish, or boyish in claiming very soon now to be in love with Lene. This seems more important to him than the authorities coming to look for him, as they soon do. At least he seizes upon this for a while. But it's an attitude, not a project. This is no love story. But one writer, Ronald Holloway, suggests with Max and Lene staying on, Max and Paul become "rivals" and the bungalow an "island" or (reportedly in Kohler's words, "outer space station". When the military police, who have called, come for Paul, Max covers for him, and he hides.

In the distance, the trio see the public pool explode, which might be a bomb. Is it "them"?

As he will be in subsequent films, Köhler is already a master of minute, seemingly random, detail, boldly confident, like Paul, in doing "nothing." He takes the dare, as if to say, "You think I can't make this blah, boring situation interesting? Watch me!" And he does, so long as you tune in. While Paul is idle, sometimes childish, he also seems dangerous. Köhler excels in maintaining this state of latency. Lene is responsive to Paul. It's hot, he's young, he's naked, he attracts her. She kisses him, she touches him; it's sexy. But this isn't about that, and even when they spend a night naked together lying in bed side by side, he says it was nothing but Lene says "It wasn't just nothing."

Now Paul hangs out with Kerstin (Nicole Gläser), his girlfriend who has said it's over. Her parents are also away, in Munich. He is dangerous behind the wheel, especially now (does he know how to drive? have a license?), driving this girl's family car through the dust like a stunt driver in a roller derby. After a couple of nights and sixty minutes into this eighty-five-minute film Paul seems to have entered a process of degeneration. He's cut his foot, and has blood all over his T shirt, and walks around barefoot. Besides constantly changing shorts and T shirts, he seems to sleep irregularly. He may be becoming deranged. But this is all very understated, and the more real for being so. So is Lene and Paul's unexpected tryst in a motel. It's here that he echos her line earlier describing her now lost film role, when she says he's not talking much, repeating "I'm an extraterrestrial. I don't have many lines." He doesn't have much to say, he doesn't have much moral compass, but he's a very cinematic creation.

Paul may be losing it, but he remains a coyote - a trickster and artful dodger. He repeatedly offers himself to the army to collect him and then disappears. And so he does not come to a bad end - or any clearcut end. Also according to Ronald Holloway, Kohler has pointed out that he's indebted in Bungalow to Antonioni for "sketches of psychologically barren figures," and to seventies American filmmakers, especially Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop and Bob Rafelson's Five Easy Pieces . The latter's ending, he points out, is clearly echoed in Bungalow's last moments.

Bungalow, coscripted with Henrike Goetz, debuted in Panorama at the Berlinale Feb. 7, 2002, playing in nine other international festivals extending into 2005; five awards, three nominations. It now can be watched on Amazon Prime or pay for view in the US.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 

All times are UTC - 8 hours

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 22 guests

You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group