BUNGALOW (GERMANY / 2002)
It is disappointing to say the least that other than the institution itself -- Cahiers du cinéma, that is -- not many are willing to acknowledge the presence of the (New) German new wave, one which, like any legitimate movement, has not only arrived but is still arriving, and one which is as rich and dynamic as those currently flourishing in Argentina, Romania and, perhaps, the Philippines. (To make this argument, one need not necessarily consult the slightly more calculated and certainly more successful films of Fatih Akin, arguably the most well known young German filmmaker among cinephiles worldwide.) Things are looking up, though, as the term "Berliner Schule" ("Berlin School") has been coined locally in the recent past, which initially connected, much to the directors' chagrin, those who actually did attend the Berlin film academy (Christian Petzold -- whose hypnotic and hypnotizing new film, Yella (2007), to my pleasant surprise, was recently distributed in the U.S. -- Angela Schanelec and Thomas Arslan) and has since enveloped a few of the younger filmmakers who've moved to the German capital to work (Christoph Hochhäusler, Valeska Grisebach, Henner Winckler, etc.) Even though the fine Argentine critic Quintín only went about halfway between the two "schools of thought" (he politely and safely furthered the notion of the "New German Cinema"), while discussing the second feature (Windows on Monday ) by Ulrich Köhler, who belongs in that latter group, he made an astute observation regarding common characteristics found in the works of many of these filmmakers: "The cleanness of the shots, the precise and careful camera movements, the natural restraint in the acting, the dryness of the storytelling, the silences, the ellipses, and ambiguities, the youth of the characters, the interest in exploring intimacy, and the uneasiness of individuals in society […]." The same attributes undoubtedly apply to Köhler's assured first feature, Bungalow.
The film opens with a somewhat bizarre sight of military convoys roaming an empty and pristine stretch of a suburban autobahn. Upon entering the parking lot of a rest area (which now looks exactly the same in all first world countries), they stop at a Burger King where the young recruits pick up their orders before getting back into the vehicles. One of them decides not to join the group, and goes on to finish his meal. After exercising his "right" to a day off, 19-year-old Paul (Lennie Burmeister) heads to the only place he knows: the eponymous dwelling of his bourgeois parents, who happen to be vacationing in Italy. He breaks in, rests, masturbates, tries to get back with his girlfriend, but is soon joined by his older brother Max (the über-talented Devid Striesow) and his Danish lover Lene (Trine Dyrholm), a struggling actress who wants to make it in Deutschland. Much to Max's displeasure, who only appears to be a tad more refined version of his slacker sibling, Paul chooses to prolong his "vacation," which leads to him getting infatuated with Lene, while causing the Military Police to start looking for him.
"[…]The drama is softened in [Bungalow]: desperation is absent, and the consequences of actions are mild, never definitive," Quintín has rightly stated. "A sort of Brechtian detachment, as well as the protection of class, make characters immune to catastrophe, invulnerable to melodrama." Moreover, it could be added that the film's exactitude and tactility prevents it from veering toward the norm when it comes to disaffected youth pictures: even the otherwise distinctive shots of Paul skateboarding by himself lack the typically mundane angst-laden poetry. An annoyingly sheepish, Robert Ford-type, who quite literally gets his butt kicked by everyone he tries to mess around with, Paul is well played by Burmeister (a newcomer who won the Best Actor award at the 2001 Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema for his troubles). And since this "outlaw" either runs to the back of the house or to the hill nearby when the authorities come looking for him, his plan to defect to Africa retrospectively feels like a joke as black as the smoke emitting from his anonymous town's center after a mysterious explosion, the discussion of which prompts Max to assert that "Capitalism has no more natural enemies." The symbolism of the film's final shot, however, seems to suggest otherwise. Spare, meticulous, and oddly moving, Bungalow is one of the finest German debuts of recent years.
*The film premiered at Berlinale '02 (Panorama).